Did you get to raise a butterfly in your elementary school classroom like I did when you were a kid? I think it was one of the highlights of school for me. If you weren’t so lucky to do this at school, or if you just want to do it again, there are kits online that you can purchase, either from the company directly or through retailers like Amazon. These are typically painted lady butterflies, which are found in most areas of the United States. You will not usually find an exotic butterfly raising kit, as introducing new species into an area is not advised.
Your butterfly kit may come with the caterpillars or it will have a voucher you can use to sent away for them. If you have to send away for them, never fear. They arrive quickly and as very small caterpillars. They will be housed in a special container which prevents their escape into the house. These kits are self-contained so you do not have to grab the right kinds of leaves for the caterpillars. They will eat the nutrition solution at the bottom of the container. It is also a good idea not to open the container until all of your caterpillars are safely in the pupal stage. You can watch the caterpillars as they grow and molt, and witness their ascent to the top of the container where they will form their chrysalis.
Once they are in the pupal stage, you can safely move them to the mesh container provided with your kit. Day to day, it won’t look like much is going on, but inside those chrysalides, there is amazing work going on. The entire caterpillar will change as it turns into a butterfly.
It is very cool to watch the caterpillars emerge from their chrysalis. If you are afraid you will miss it, train a video camera at the butterflies and film it. Once the butterflies have arrived, you can add flowers or soft fruit to the container for the butterflies to drink.
However, after a few days, it is best for you to release the butterflies out into the world. They will need to find mates and lay eggs, and it is difficult to tell if you have enough males and females. Also, the butterflies would not want to lay their eggs in that mesh container because there is no food source. They will also lay more eggs than you are equipped to handle, even if your caterpillars did not eat all of the food in their container. So you should really let them go.
Releasing your butterflies is a sad thing but is the right choice. You should release them preferably somewhere that they will have a ready source of nectar. It is good to release them when it is over 55 degrees and sunny as well. It will give them their best chance of survival.
Most places offer a “refill” kit that is cheaper and only contains the live caterpillars in their container. This way, if the weather is cooperative and you want, you can raise more. Once you start, it is hard to stop!