Play Better: Three Things to Know About Butterfly Growing Kits for Kids
Putting the life in life cycle.
When a very hungry caterpillar (AKA butterfly larva) is fully tanked up, it hangs upside down and encloses itself in a chrysalis. Inside, the caterpillar releases enzymes that dissolve its body into caterpillar goo—saving only a few groups of cells called imaginal discs from being digested into that protein soup. Then the imaginal discs use that goo as a power source to rebuild the caterpillar from the ground up until—voila!—a butterfly emerges. Weirdest news? Scientists think that, even after dissolving and rebuilding, these fluttery friends remember lessons they learned as caterpillars—at least that seems to be true for their moth cousins.
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To hand-raise butterflies, you’ll need a well-constructed habitat. This is usually a mesh terrarium that keeps the caterpillars (and eventually the butterflies) securely contained while still offering an unobstructed view of their life cycle. Some setups retain the caterpillars in a cup until they form the chrysalis while others are large enough to house the butterflies’ preferred plants—such as milkweed for Monarchs and thistle or hollyhock for Painted Ladies. Look for a zipper for easy access to the interior of the habitat and collapsibility so you can easily store the habitat between uses.
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When it comes to redeeming a voucher for live caterpillars or refilling caterpillars to begin the life cycle again, the most important consideration is timing. It’s crucial that area temperatures remain above 40 degrees and below 85 degrees while the caterpillars are in the mail. Once you receive the caterpillars, it will take about 10 days for them to form chrysalides and then another 10 days before the butterflies emerge. Released butterflies need daytime temps between 55 degrees and 90 degrees to thrive—keep that timeline in mind when deciding when to place your order.
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Once the butterflies emerge, keep them in the habitat for 3 or 4 days, feeding them sugar water with a dropper or providing fresh fruit. Within a week, the newly emerged butterflies will begin mating and laying eggs, so you definitely want to send them out into the world before your habitat is overrun with a new generation of very hungry caterpillars. (If that happens, you can feed the caterpillars their preferred plants—but each female butterfly can lay hundreds of eggs, so be prepared to become a full-time caterpillar keeper.)
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