Today my caterpillars arrived. I have been growing butterflies for many years – my daughter, Jess, used to love watching how they grew and changed – the real life hungry caterpillar – and I have continued ordering a kit most years because it fascinates me too.
The tiny caterpillars arrive in their pot with food at the bottom. They stay in this pot until the last one has formed a cocoon. The caterpillars grow really quickly so really do capture the children’s attention.
As we are in lockdown I thought it may interest some of your children if I do a butterfly diary, so they too can watch and see the changes.
3 of the caterpillars have changed already – they have become darker and spikier.
They appear to have got over their journey through the post and are busy eating the food at the bottom of their pot. Notice the difference in size between the 2 in the picture - they develop at their own rate!
The caterpillars are visibly growing – they are much bigger than the first day, although one is still noticeably smaller than the others. We were concerned that the smallest caterpillar hadn’t moved for some time, but it is crawling along the top of the pot as I’m typing. Reading the information that came with the caterpillars it seems that they are inactive as they prepare their bodies to moult their skin.
The bigger caterpillars have started to shed their skins – they are the little black balls – shown in the photo. They will shed their exoskeletons several times as they grow.
The short video shows how the caterpillars move along the pot.
You may be able to see webs in the pot. In the wild the caterpillars use the webbing to stick to the plants they are eating, as the wind could blow them off the leaves. The caterpillars have hooks on their true front legs, which they use to walk on the web like a ladder.
The caterpillar has 6 front legs called 'true legs' - these will become the 6 legs of the butterfly when the caterpillar transforms.
The caterpillars have been quite active today, crawling around the pot and eating lots! They are growing quickly because the temperature is warm.
The caterpillars continue to eat and to grow! The small brown dots you can see in the pot now are the caterpillars’ poo!
In the close up photo you can see the ‘true legs’ clearly that I wrote about yesterday.
The caterpillars have been less active today and some have them have shed their skin again and are noticeably bigger tonight. You can see in the close up photo the discarded exoskeleton beside the caterpillar.
Much more web in the pot now, so harder to take clear photos at the base.
The caterpillars seem to have grown longer again since yesterday.
There's still food covering the bottom of the pot so I think it'll be a few more days before they start to think about building their chrysalides.
The caterpillars seemed to have grown noticeably when I came downstairs this morning – they are long and spikey and constantly eating! Its amazing how much they have grown in a week!
I have noticed that one of the caterpillars has become much whiter than the others as it's grown. I've never had this before, so we will see if the butterfly colours are any different when it emerges.
Still eating, still growing!
Today the caterpillars have eaten through the food so we can see through it! Usually once we get to this stage it's not long before they get into the J position to begin to change to chrysalides.
Four of them have spent a lot of time on the top of the pot today (under the lid). One is still mostly eating - I think the one that was smaller at the beginning
Maybe we'll have cocoons tomorrow!
We came downstairs to 3 of the caterpillars on the top of the pot in a J shape this morning.
There is a paper disc under the lid and the caterpillars attach themselves to it, in the J shape, to shed their exoskeletons one last time and harden into chrysalides.
The green caterpillar has been moving around the pot, irritating the ones on the top and making them twitch! The remaining caterpillar has been eating for most of the day!
Overnight the 3 hanging caterpillars have gone into chrysalides. The green caterpillar has also now attached itself to the lid and formed a J shape.
The last remaining caterpillar has been crawling around the top today, so I think will be following the rest shortly.
The pot is such a mess now that it's hard to get a good photo but I'll take some when I transfer them to the net.
The last caterpillar has got itself into the J shape so by tomorrow they will all be chrysalides.
One of the chrysalides has fallen from the top - probably when the last caterpillars were crawling around the top, making them twitch and shake. Luckily it has been caught by the webbing and is suspended half way down!
All 5 caterpillars are now chrysalides. I will wait another day for the last one to harden and then transfer them to the net.
I won’t post tomorrow as its difficult to take pictures through the pot. I’ll take photos as I transfer them to the net on Tuesday.
Today I have transferred the chrysalides from the pot to the net.
I had to remove all of the silk webbing from around them so that when the butterflies emerge their wings don’t get tangled up in it, causing them to become deformed.
A couple of the chrysalides twitched/shook while I was removing the web, this is their natural reaction when they think they are under threat. As you will hear from the short video, the chrysalides are quite hard – this one was ‘tapping’ against the lid for a little while after I stood it in the stand.
The chrysalides are in the net and we are just waiting now!!
The caterpillars are in their butterfly net, its just a waiting game now.
They may look like nothing much is happening, but an amazing transformation is taking place inside. For more information on the transformation have a look here.
This morning the first butterfly emerged.
When it first emerges the wings are soft – it takes a couple of hours for them to harden.
Now the wings are hard the butterfly has fluttered around the net a little bit
I have put a piece of banana in the net and put some sugar water on the flowers so the butterfly can feed.
Sadly two of the other butterflies attempted to hatch today but seem to have stopped moving now, so I think for whatever reason they haven’t been successful.
Two more butterflies have emerged today.
If you look carefully you will see the probiscus (tongue) on the close up of the newly emerged butterfly.
As the day has gone on their wings have hardened and they have been fluttering around the net. We took them in the net out into the sunshine this afternoon and we are aiming to release them tomorrow as the weather is due to be warm.
I released the first butterfly that emerged yesterday afternoon as it was fluttering around in the net and looking like it was ready to go.
We released the other two butterflies this morning once the sun had warmed up. The first one flew off almost as soon as we took it out of the net and landed on the hedge, but the second one happily sat on our hands whilst we took photos and we then gently put it onto the hedge beside the first one. Eventually they both fluttered off to lay eggs and start the cycle again.
During lockdown I am unable to run my usual groups and therefore I am posting regular activity ideas to try to keep your little ones entertained. Normal service will resume when I am able. In the meantime, Stay Safe.