Raising butterflies is an amazing science project for children whether you homeschool or not. In fact, it’s an activity that the whole family will enjoy!
Watching an adorable caterpillar transform into a beautiful butterfly is a great learning experience and a story that your kids will enthusiastically share with friends (and strangers – the excitement may be too high to contain) and one that they’ll remember for years to come.
It’s perfect if:
- You have animal lovers in your family.
- Your kids have been begging for a pet but you’re not ready for a long-term commitment.
- You’d like to provide a temporary home for an animal without any lingering guilt.
There are three ways to raise butterflies:
#1 Purchase a live butterfly kit.
It comes with caterpillars and basic supplies including enough food to keep the caterpillars happy and healthy. This is a pretty straightforward method of raising butterflies – all you have to do is follow the instructions the kit comes with.
However, there are drawbacks to raising butterflies this way such as the size of the provided habitat (though you can move caterpillars to a larger enclosure), shipping conditions that are not always favorable for live animals, and the fact that kids don’t get a chance to learn about butterfly host plants.
#2 Watch as much of the butterfly life cycle as possible with very little effort.
First, check your field guide to determine which species of butterflies are naturally found in your area and what their host plants are. Different species of butterflies feed on and lay eggs on different plants, with specific host plants being the only source of food for the quickly growing larvae.
Next, if you don’t have any of the host plants growing in your yard or outdoor area, you’ll need to plant some.
Once the plants are established, observe them regularly and look for signs of eggs and/or caterpillars. When you locate some, enjoy watching the life cycle of a butterfly unfold. That is – as much of it as possible…
You’re likely to miss the caterpillar forming its chrysalis since they tend to wander around at this point (if allowed). That also means that you won’t get to see the butterfly eclosion or be able to watch the new butterfly pump blood into its wings before taking its first flight. Another thing to keep in mind is that the majority of both eggs and caterpillars will inevitably be destroyed when you let nature take its course.
#3 Raise butterflies at home from scratch.
As with step #2, you’ll either need to plant the appropriate host plants (preferred) or find some growing wild in your area. Either way, you’ll need easy access to host plants – rain or shine – to establish a sufficient supply of fresh food for the always hungry, always growing caterpillars.
Butterfly larvae will starve to death if they’re not provided with the right food. For example, black swallowtail caterpillars will happily munch on dill, carrot, parsley and/or fennel plants while monarch caterpillars will only eat milkweed. They’re not being picky – they’re just not able to eat anything but their host plants.
Once you have found and collected eggs or caterpillars, you can bring them indoors to keep them safe and to start watching the magic unfold right in front of your eyes.
This way it will be YOUR job to keep the caterpillars alive and well which might sound like a daunting task. But don’t worry – caring for them is VERY easy and low-key.
Why raise butterflies at home?
Here is what growing butterflies can teach your kids:
Butterflies are disappearing at an alarming rate because of sprawling urban development and growing use of pesticides. Raising butterflies INDOORS is an effective and fun way to help increase their numbers in nature and participate in butterfly conservation.
✓ LEARNING IS FUN
Learning about the four stages of butterfly development is much more fun (and memorable) when experienced first-hand.
- You may notice how the egg changes color right before hatching.
- Watch how caterpillars molt when they outgrow their skin.
- Observe how they move, eat, and how their features change over the course of their development.
- Notice how the chrysalis becomes transparent shortly before a butterfly emerges.
The unique transitions between the egg, larva, pupa, and the adult butterfly are truly fascinating to watch – no matter what age you are!
While raising butterflies at home, be prepared to answer a lot of questions. Not only will your kids be interested in all kinds of fun facts, they’ll want to know EVERYTHING. Do butterflies migrate? If so, where do they go? Do they come back? What do butterflies eat? How do they eat? What eats butterflies? How long do butterflies live? Where do they hide from the rain? Eww, did our new butterfly poop? If you’re anything like me and don’t know all the answers – this is where you turn to Google. 😉
Caring for caterpillars at home isn’t too difficult and teaches children valuable skills.
Whether you buy a live butterfly kit or decide to start from scratch, this fun project will give your kids a sense of pride, confidence, and accomplishment while teaching them a number of life lessons.
If you choose to raise butterflies from eggs or caterpillars you found, kids can help provide enough fresh food for the caterpillars on a regular basis. They’ll likely love being in charge of finding and adding a variety of sticks for the caterpillars to pupate on. They can also help clean the habitat every two days or so and monitor general progress in the butterfly enclosure.
After being able to observe the newly emerged butterflies for a while, kids will also learn responsibility through releasing their special, brightly-colored winged friends outside where they belong.
The metamorphosis magic doesn’t happen right away.
Expect for an egg to hatch within approximately 1-7 days. The caterpillar will eat and grow for about 2 weeks. Once a chrysalis is formed, the butterfly will appear in about 1-2 weeks. Time periods vary greatly depending on time of year and butterfly species.
Kids will love helping plant the butterfly garden!
When you raise butterflies indoors, they’ll need a safe temporary home that you can either purchase or make yourself. Mesh pop-ups are fairly inexpensive, but designing and creating a butterfly habitat is half the fun for my kids, so we tend to make a new one each year.
If you decide to make one as well, it can be as simple as using an old box (top, front, and perhaps parts of the sides cut out) and mesh netting – unless you’re dedicated to raising MONARCH BUTTERFLIES which NEED their environment disinfected between different lots.
Are you ready to raise your very own butterflies?
Raising butterflies is a low-cost project that is very rewarding. It can be a one-time experience or one that can be repeated over and over in the same season and year after year.
Some butterfly species are more difficult to raise than others. If you can, I recommend starting with species that are easier to raise.
Even if you do everything right, things can go wrong. A portion of eggs might not hatch, a number of caterpillars might die, and some butterflies may not successfully complete the amazing transformation. Still, you will have saved a lot more butterflies than nature alone would have raised on its own. It is estimated that out of hundreds of eggs, only a few butterflies will become adults.
We have had great success with monarchs and black swallowtails, each year releasing dozens of butterflies. We are, however, noticing less and less butterflies fluttering around each year. And you may be too…
If you want to make a difference, even just one time, will you consider raising your very own butterflies?
And if you happen to be an all-time butterfly-raising veteran, I’d love to hear about your favorite butterfly species to raise!