Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Lessons From Nature: Raising Our Adopted Caterpillars

About three weeks ago, we adopted two caterpillars from Kidspace Children’s Museum. This is the story of their metamorphosis.

During its Caterpillar Adoption Days (which run through April 17, 2010), Kidspace provides you with a caterpillar with enough nectar in the container to help it reach its chrysalis stage, plus a handy care guide and adoption papers. All for a mere $5.

Here’s what one of our caterpillars looked like the day we brought it home:

I was surprised out how small they were. I think I was expecting a giant, furry, fat caterpillar like the one in The Very Hungry Caterpillar (which we read a lot while these guys were with us)! But these were soon-to-be painted lady butterflies and they looked just the way they were supposed to.

We picked a safe spot in our house – one away from direct sunlight and high enough to be out of reach of the family cats. We told the kids that we would look but not touch the containers. The caterpillars needed a calm place to do all their growing, after all.

Every morning and every night, the kids wanted to see our caterpillar friends, always hoping for signs of change (I suppose my excitement might have been infectious).

Within just a few days, there was plenty of webbing to be seen in both containers and the caterpillars were spending a lot more time around the top of the containers.

At a week, our little guys were furry, seriously large and gearing up for the big change:

Unfortunately, the big explorer and I missed it: We were in Hawaii. It took nine days for our friends to turn into their protective chrysalides:

In our absence, the hubby faithfully moved them into larger containers and placed a stick inside each so the newly hatched butterflies would have a place to dry their wings once they emerged.

Luckily, none of us missed the most exciting part of the metamorphosis. It took another 10 plus days after we left for Hawaii for the butterflies to emerge:

Within the recommended four days, we released each of our painted ladies into the wild world with our best wishes for a beautiful life:

Adopting a caterpillar and watching its transformation into a chrysalis and then a butterfly can be a pretty powerful experience. Here’s what our family took away from it:

Life is fragile. This point hit home for us when, eight days into our little nature experiment, one of our cats somehow reached the caterpillars and knocked them both down to the ground. Thankfully they both survived, but it gave all of us a very clear reminder that life is precious.

Growth involves change. The big explorer loved watching the physical changes the caterpillars were making, but he also had a bigger question: were they still the same on the inside? His simple question allowed me to reassure my growing 5 year old that just because he might lose a tooth or grow out of his favorite T-shirt, he'd still be the same great person inside.

Eventually, you gotta fly free. No matter how much we enjoyed having these little guys in our home, they needed to be free outside in nature. We were sad to say goodbye, but excited to see them fly off. I imagine this is a lesson I'll be reminding myself of again some day.

If you have the opportunity to raise a caterpillar into a butterfly with your kiddos, I highly recommend it. And if you’re in the area, Kidspace Children’s Museum will be hosting its 14th Annual Grand Butterfly Release this Saturday, April 17 from 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. No doubt it will be one beautiful sight to see.

This post is part of the Backyard Mama Wednesday blog carnival about "Sharing Nature." Stop on over to check out other ways to connect your kids with nature.


  1. I blogged about our big fat caterpillar recently, but sadly he didn't make it to chrysalis stage. He was a ravenous grub and polished off the whole plant! Nothing left for him to eat that was to his liking...

    Thanks for sharing the whole lifecycle though. A truly wonderful learning experience.

  2. You know how much I love butterflies Debi, this is a wonderful informative post! Thanks for sharing.

  3. Such a great experience for the whole family!
    We are still working on getting to the emerging stage. We had some make chrysalis' last fall and over winter but they never emerged... at least not yet!
    Thanks for sharing!

  4. Cath, sorry to hear your little guy didn't make it. It definitely helped that ours came with enough food to make it to the chrysalis stage.

    Marghanita, we'll soon be heading to a nearby butterfly exhibit to see even more of our beautiful fluttering friends. Promise to post!

    Dawn, I'm actually realizing that many of my friends have had less success than we did with the caterpillars. I'm so thankful ours made it! You must try this again, though, because success is well worth the wait!

  5. Hi Debi! What a nice experiment. My kids tend to capture creatures outside and put them in jars, where they often do surprising things --- we had a grasshopper molt in a jar and a ladybug pupae become a ladybug beetle. I actually never saw any of that when I was a kid, so I get just as excited as they do!

    Your blog is a nice antidote to the belief here in Oregon that lower California is just one big freeway : )

  6. I agree that looking after caterpillars and watching them metamorphose is wonderful. There's a super company called Insect Lore that can supply caterpillars, homes, etc.

  7. What a great experience. I remember when I was a kid, my mom homeschooled us, and one of our science projects was to capture a catepillar, and do the same things. We fed it every day, and watched him bloom into a butterfly. I can't wait for my son to experience it to. Isn't nature wonderful?

  8. Jennifer, thanks for stopping by! I'm glad to be able to offer you a new way of looking at L.A.! Sounds like your kiddos are learning a ton about nature all on their own. Very cool!

    Juliet, thanks so much for providing the link for purchasing caterpillars and more!

    Jana, lucky you! I missed out on the great caterpillar experiment as a kid & am so glad to have finally tried it as an adult. It really was a wonderful experience. Hope to do it again next spring.

  9. Great post! You have inspired me to get a caterpillar. If not this year, certainly next What a fun project!

  10. Sharlene, I think your kiddos would LOVE raising caterpillars!

  11. I have a very small butterfly garden at the preschool, but our caterpillars eat their hosting plant very fast. It would be wonderful for me to get information about that food they gave you inside the jars with your caterpillar, knowing that recipe will help a lot our school at Costa Rica, Central America.Thank You in advance!
    Laura Oreamuno.
    Science Teacher.
    Saint Anthony School.

  12. @Laura: I'm not sure what was in the container, exactly. I recommend you contact KidSpace directly for details. Here's a link to the site:

    Good luck!


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