Caterpillar to Butterfly Kit for School Instructions

Welcome To Your Caterpillar To Butterfly Kit For School Experience

You and your students are about to witness the incredible life cycle of the painted lady butterflies! Expect the change from caterpillar to butterfly to take about 3 weeks. Caterpillars grow faster in warmer climates. Your fully grown painted ladies will live for 2 to 4 weeks. You can release them outside when the temperature is above 55°F.

Your Caterpillar To Butterfly Kit For School Consists Of

  1. 30 painted lady caterpillars in 2 covered cups of 15 each
  2. A cup filled with concentrated caterpillar food
  3. A spoon
  4. 30 small cups and lids
  5. 30 squares of filter paper and a transfer brush
  6. Water mister
  7. A butterfly feeder with cotton wick
  8. 4 packets of sugar
  9. A sugar water dropper
  10. Butterfly life cycle coloring page
  11. Butterfly habitat selected by you

You Will Need To Provide

  1. Water and a small bowl to mix and store the sugar solution
  2. Pieces of fruits such as watermelons, bananas or oranges
  3. Tape
  4. Permanent marker

Getting Started

This fun project begins by transferring the caterpillars from the 2 covered cups in which they arrive into 30 small cups for each student.

  1. Place the 2 covered cups of caterpillars in a refrigerator (not a freezer) for 20 to 30 minutes. This will cause the caterpillars to stop moving and make them easier to transfer.
  2. Scoop ½ spoon of food into each of the 30 small cups.
  3. Firmly press the food into the bottom of their small cups using the bottom of a small cup. Each cup should have about ¼ inches of food in it.
  4. Using the permanent marker, write each child’s name on a small cup.
  5. Remove the covered cups of caterpillars from the refrigerator after 20 to 30 minutes.
  6. Use the transfer brush to gently pick up the caterpillars one at a time and transfer each into a small cup.
  7. Place a square of filter paper over the top of each small cup and then snap on its lid. The caterpillars will have enough air inside their cups so you need not worry about it.
  8. Move any extra caterpillars into the caterpillar food cup with the remaining food and cover it using the lid from either of the 2 covered cups in which the caterpillars arrived.

Important Note: Replace the lid on the covered cup each time you transfer a caterpillar. Otherwise, the remaining caterpillars might feel adventurous and crawl out.

Caring For The Caterpillars

Each student’s hungry caterpillar will gobble the food on the bottom of its small cup to thrive and grow. In the wild they like mallow and hollyhock plants, but they enjoy the nutritional mix also.  Children can watch as they eat, crawl, spin silk and grow many times their original size.  If some caterpillars do not move for quite some time, do not worry. The children should not try to move them as it is part of the transformation process.

As the caterpillars eat and grow, your students might start noticing little balls at the bottom of their small cups. They are actually caterpillars’ frass or waste and should be left in the cup. While the caterpillars are in their cups, children can carefully pick up the cup to look at them but they should be very gentle with their painted lady.

Important Note: Keep the caterpillars in the small cups at room temperature (68°F to 78°F) and out of direct sunlight. Direct sunlight may cause condensation in the cups which is not healthy for the caterpillars. Keep the lid on the cups at all times to prevent introducing bacteria into it.

Changing From Caterpillar To Chrysalis

At normal room temperature the caterpillars should take 5 to 10 days to grow large enough to make the fascinating change from caterpillar to chrysalis. The caterpillars will climb to the top of the cup and attach themselves, by strands of silk, to the filter paper under the lid of the cup. They will hang upside down from the filter paper making a “J” shape. They will shed a very thin layer of outer skin that the children may not even notice at first. After that, they’ll get covered in a harder skin and start to rapidly transform into butterflies.

Important Note: During the first day, while the chrysalides are forming, it is very important that the caterpillars are not disturbed or moved. This is the most vulnerable stage in the development of your class’s pretty painted ladies.

Caring For The Chrysalides

The best time to move the caterpillars into your butterfly habitat is 24 hours after all of them have formed chrysalides. By this time they should all be firmly attached to the filter paper under the lid of the cup. In order to move them to the habitat, you have to move the whole filter paper.

  1. Keep your pop-up habitat on a stable, flat surface. In case you’ve got the hanging habitat, hang it using the C-shape screw that has been provided.
  2. Add water to the butterfly feeder (no sugar) and place it at the center of the habitat’s floor. This will help remove wrinkles from the netting and start to increase the humidity inside the habitat.
  3. Gently open each cup and remove the filter paper while being very careful not to disturb the chrysalis. Sometimes silk fibers attach the chrysalis to the cup – use the transfer brush to free it from the cup, but not from the paper.
  4. Use tape to attach the filter papers securely on an inside wall (not the top) of the habitat. Space them around 2 inches apart. The chrysalides will be hanging downward and laying against the filter paper.
  5. If any of the chrysalides become detached from the filter paper, gently lay them on a napkin on the habitat’s floor next to a side wall. There is a good chance for them to still emerge as healthy butterflies.
  6. Use the water mister once every day to provide a gentle mist of room temperature water inside your habitat. Too much misting is worse than no misting.

Important Note: As with the cup, the habitat should be kept at room temperature room temperature (68°F to 78°F) and out of direct sunlight.

Birth Of The Butterflies

About 7 to 10 days after their chrysalides have been formed your butterflies will emerge. During this period, from the outside, it appears as if nothing is happening but it is a time of rapid changes. Within the chrysalis, the old body parts of your caterpillars undergo a remarkable transformation. They change into the beautiful body parts of your soon-to-emerge butterflies. This remarkable transformation is called metamorphosis.

The chrysalides will get darker as the time to emerge gets closer. If your students are patient enough and keep their eyes on them, they will get to witness the birth of the beautiful painted ladies. As a butterfly emerges it will hold onto the filter paper in a vertical position while stretching its wings to full size. Don’t be alarmed if you see a red liquid, which may look like blood, coming from the tail of the butterfly. This liquid is called meconium and it’s a waste product left over from the butterfly’s metamorphosis.

When a butterfly emerges its wings are soft and folded and so it cannot fly. Over a period of 1 to 2 hours, the butterfly stretches and strengthens its wings by forcing blood into the veins. After that the butterflies will be fully-grown and ready for flight. You can then reach into the habitat to remove the filter papers and chrysalis remains.

Important Note: The children should not try to touch the newly emerged butterflies. They should also be careful not to move or disturb the habitat for 1 to 2 hours after the butterflies emerge, while they unfold and harden their wings.

Feeding, Observing And Releasing The Butterflies

The normal lifespan of a painted lady butterfly is about 2 to 4 weeks. Your class will want to observe the butterflies for a few days before they release them outside. Butterflies will not eat the first day but after that you need to feed them.

To feed the butterflies:

  1. Make a sugar solution by mixing a single sugar packet in 1/4th cup of water.
  2. Fill the feeder cup almost to the top and replace the lid. The cotton wick will stay moist and the butterflies will drink the sugar water from the moist wick.
  3. Set the feeder on the floor of the habitat.
  4. Keep extra sugar water refrigerated between feedings.
  5. Rinse and refill the feeder (no soap) once a week. If you run out of sugar solution you can make more by mixing 1 tablespoon of real sugar with 4 oz. of water.

Butterflies eat by unrolling their proboscis and drinking sweetened water. When they are finished, they roll their proboscis back up. Butterflies taste with their feet. You can use the sugar water dropper to place a drop of sugar water near the feet of a butterfly, while it rests on the side of the cage. Butterflies also like to drink from slices of freshly cut watermelon, banana or orange. Once every day, use the water mister to give your butterflies a gentle mist of room temperature water.

After observing the butterflies for a few days the children should release them outside. Your painted ladies will continue their normal life cycle, breed and lay the eggs that will become more caterpillars. Your class’s butterflies are not likely to breed within the habitat because they prefer plants for laying their eggs. Painted ladies live throughout North America so you can safely release them anywhere you’d like. Once released, the butterflies can often be seen for several days in the vicinity of their release.

Important Note: It is safe to release your butterflies when the temperature outside is above 55°F. If it is too chilly, you can keep them inside for their full lifespan.