30 Days Wild kicked off in the UK this week. It’s an annual initiative by the National Trusts to get people appreciate, enjoying and engaging with nature more. Obviously we’re still a bit limited on what we can do right now, but one of my favourite things that we did with the boys last year was raising butterflies and we’ve done it again this year.
Last year we ordered a Butterfly Raising Kit from Insect Lore, which includes a pop-up mesh habitat, a feeding pipette, and a voucher for caterpillars. You can redeem the voucher on their website from March to early September. You can order the kit at any time of year, but you’ll only be able to get the caterpillars during those times as it’s too cold the rest of the year.
Caterpillars Day 1
Caterpillars Day 10
The caterpillars arrive in a ventilated, clear plastic cup with some ‘superfood’. They have everything they need inside the cup, so don’t open it! Make sure you place the cup somewhere safe where it won’t be knocked, and away from direct sunlight. The caterpillars are tiny when they arrive, but will soon grow to ten times their size.
Caterpillars Day 12
After 12 days our caterpillars moved to the underside of the cup lid, where they hung upside down and hardened into chrysalides by day 15. Three days after they chrysalides have hardened, you should carefully move them to the butterfly habitat. The kit includes full instructions on how to do this, but you keep them attached to the lid and prop it up in a little box that gets supplied alongside. If any of them have fallen off, you can gently move them to the bottom of the habitat.
Caterpillars Day 15
Caterpillars Day 20
After we moved the chrysalides, it took another seven days for the butterflies to start emerging (day 25). The last one emerged two days after the first one (day 27). The emerging happens super fast. Blink and you miss it. We’d literally check on them, and then when checking again ten minutes later they’d be out. For the last caterpillar this year, we set up a time lapse hoping to catch it on camera, but we set the intervals too far apart. It was over in less than three minutes and we only captured three frames in that time. The butterflies that emerge are Painted Lady Butterflies.
Caterpillars Day 27
After the butterflies have emerged, you need to feed them. You can give them some sugar water with the pipette, or sliced fruit with the surface scored to draw juice. You can keep them for a few days before you let them go, but we set them free as soon as the last one had emerged.
We took the butterflies in to our back garden to set them free. We opened the habitat but they wouldn’t come out by themselves, so we held in some twigs for them to climb on to and helped them out. The butterflies will hand around for a bit while they get used to their new environment and temperature, before fluttering off, so it’s a great opportunity to look at them up close. We even got them to sit on our hands (we didn’t pick them up, we just held our fingers up next to the twigs and they walked over).
We also held up some flowers for them to climb on to, and you could see really clearly how their little proboscis unfurled to feed on the nectar of the flower. Eventually they all fluttered off, and the boys bid them a fond farewell.
You can reuse the habitat year after year, and order a refill of caterpillars, which is exactly what we did this year. They say you will get a cup with 3-5 caterpillars but we’ve had 5 caterpillars both time. They also guarantee that at least three will develop in to butterflies – last year we had three butterflies emerge, and this year all five. A refill cup of caterpillars costs £11.99 but it was money well spent as it is such an amazing and also educational experience for the boys.