The "Miracle of Metamorphosis"

If you follow me on Instagram you will know that last month we raised some butterflies. I posted a few pictures and a LOT of stories over there whilst the little project was on-going but I thought it'd be nice to create a blog post about it with some more details. WARNING: this is going to be a pretty long post with quite a lot of photos - so grab a cuppa and a Hobnob or two!

 Stu came home from work towards the end of last year saying a colleague had been talking about some butterflies his children raised over the summer. Stu thought it sounded good and wanted to look at doing it with our two. A bit of research on the Insect Lore website told us you could only buy caterpillars between March and September so we decided it'd be something we'd do around their birthdays this year.

Our caterpillars arrived through the post on 3rd July. They came via Royal Mail and were literally handed over in a post bag by the Post Woman. I hadn't realised what I had been handed so promptly dropped the package on the floor! Oops! Luckily the caterpillars seemed fine and were wriggling away as soon as we opened them.

We bought a couple of pots of caterpillars (5 in each pot) and one habitat.  The set came with everything we needed, and included clear instructions and lots of extra information about the process of metamorphosis.

Charlotte was mesmerised from the start. She even made me put the caterpillars on the tea table so she could continue to examine them as she ate. I let her, but did explain that we would then find a good place to put them, and then shouldn't disturb them too much so they could become butterflies in peace.

I was shocked at how quickly the caterpillars grew. We did get them over a particularly warm fortnight so I think that helped, but it really was a quick process all things considered. I mean, they turned into butterflies in two weeks! Incredible really.

Right, now I'm going to go into list mode. The caterpillar stage really was just a case of leaving them be and observe. The sandy coloured stuff at the bottom of the pot was all the food and moisture they needed, and you couldn't open the lids in case you introduced any harmful bacteria to their environment.   So, rather than waffle too much I'm going to let you do just that - observe. (Yes, I'm aware that the photos are crappy. They were taken on my phone and I'm no photographer. I also didn't want to keep moving and disturbing them just for better light. I know I could have at least cropped the images to tidy them up a bit but I didn't. So there you go!)

Day 1 - 3rd July

Day 2 - 4th July

Day 3 - 5th July

Day 5 - 7th July

Day 6 - 8th July

Day 7 - 9th July

Day 8 - 10th July

Day 9 - 11th July

Within 9 days of our delivery we had 10 chrysalides (apparently the plural of chrysalis - who knew?!). The pot on the left of "day 9" was perfect. 5 little, lovely chrysalides hanging straight down. The pot on the right was far from perfect. One chrysalis was fine. Another formed nicely on the lid, but fell to the floor. One caterpillar never even bothered with the journey up the pot and just became a chrysalis on the floor. The other two...well I'm not quite sure. The caterpillars both successfully made their way to the lid but then just got in each others way. You might just be able to see in the photo that one chrysalis is almost horizontal as it's stuck to the other. I didn't want to interfere and potentially damage the others so all I could do was leave them to it. We left the chrysalides another 3 days to properly harden, and then came the hard work.

The lids came off the pots on 14th July and the chrysalides needed cleaning up. Left pot was no trouble. A little wipe around with a cotton bud to removed a tiny bit of silk and we were done. Beautiful.

Right pot was less straightforward.  As you can see in the image below, the bottom right chrysalis is ok. The left two are the ones that got a bit tangled. To be honest they looked pretty manky, and the lid near them looked pretty mouldy too.  I did my best to clean them as much as possible but the right hand chrysalis really didn't like it and was shaking a lot. I just did what I could.

The two chrysalides that had fallen to the floor of the pot had to be scooped up with a plastic spoon, cleaned up, and placed on the floor of the habitat. This wasn't a problem and just meant Charlotte could have a better look.

Once the habitat was all set up it was, once again, just a case of sitting and waiting.

Our first butterfly arrived on Day 16, 18th July. The first one to attempt to emerge was one of the manky ones.  It didn't go well. The butterfly only partially emerged. Had a break. Tried again. And again. And again. By this point it hadn't been able to spread out its wings for them to fully form and harden properly and so didn't survive.  Sadly, the other manky chrysalis didn't do anything at all.

The rest of the butterflies emerged wonderfully over a couple of days, and I even caught a couple of them as they happened.

We fed the butterflies fruit whilst we observed them for a few days before letting them go.

We decided to release them on 21st July - I'd spotted a couple of the butterflies mating the day before and really didn't want to be dealing with hundreds of eggs and caterpillars!

Releasing them really was lovely. A couple flew straight off as soon as we opened the habitat but the others were a little more reluctant to leave. This was great, as it meant we got to take our time, hold them, and watch them as they flitted about the garden.

Charlotte thought the project was fantastic. Checking in on progress was her first priority every morning, and she'd check-in again every evening before bed. Even Benjamin, at just 12months old, would toddle to the corner of the kitchen, point up at the habitat and shout until you picked him up for a look. I also thoroughly enjoyed it. It was fun, straightforward, and a little bit magical really. We're already looking forward to doing it again next summer and would recommend it to anyone.