Raising butterflies at home 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 others and 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 healthy. This is a pretty straightforward method of raising butterflies, and all you have to do is follow the instructions the kit comes with. This is actually what we’ve done the first time around.
There are several drawbacks to raising butterflies this way though. For one thing, the container you’re supposed to keep the caterpillars in is very small (though you can, of course, move the caterpillars to a larger habitat). Depending on shipping conditions, some of these guys may suffer or die. Also, kids won’t be learning much about the relationship between butterflies and their host plants this way.
#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.
If you don’t have host plants growing in your yard/outdoor area, you’ll obviously need to plant some. Once the plants are established, observe them regularly and look for signs of eggs and/or caterpillars. Even though you’re going to miss out on the key parts of the butterfly life cycle like the chrysalis formation or a butterfly eclosion, this is a very effortless way to help with butterfly conservation. On that note, keep in mind 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 appropriate host plants (preferred), or you’ll have to find them growing wild in your area (always avoid plants that get sprayed with chemicals). You’ll need easy access to host plants. The always hungry, always growing caterpillars will need a steady supply of food, rain or shine!
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 can only eat milkweed.
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. You’ll be responsible for keeping these guys happy and healthy, but don’t worry, caring for them is very easy.
If you’re interested to see the life cycle of a Monarch butterfly that we’ve put together for you, make sure to watch the video below:
Why raise butterflies at home?
Here is what growing butterflies can teach your kids:
Butterflies are disappearing at an alarming rate because of the growing use of pesticides and sprawling urban development. Raising butterflies indoors is an effective and fun way to help increase their numbers.
✓LEARNING ABOUT BUTTERFLIES
Learning about the four stages of the butterfly life cycle is much more fun (and memorable) when experienced first-hand, no matter what age you are! If you have kids, be prepared to answer a lot of questions. If you’re anything like me, this is where you turn to Google. 😉
Caring for caterpillars at home isn’t difficult by any means and teaches kids valuable skills and life lessons. Kids can help clean the habitat every few days and provide fresh food for the caterpillars. They’ll probably enjoy being in charge of picking and adding the right kind of sticks for the caterpillars to pupate on when the time comes, and they can monitor general progress in the butterfly enclosure. When the butterflies emerge and their wings are dry enough, kids will also learn responsibility through releasing their brightly-colored winged friends outside where they belong. This project gives kids a sense of pride, confidence, and accomplishment.
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 the time of year and butterfly species.
If your kids are anything like mine, they’ll love helping plant and maintain the butterfly garden. You’ll also need a temporary home for the caterpillars/butterflies which you can either buy or make yourself. Mesh pop-ups are fairly inexpensive, but I have to say that designing and creating the 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 cheap mesh netting. That is 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 rewarding low-cost project. 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 these days. (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 several dozen butterflies. If you have any questions related to either of these species, feel free to ask. I’ll be happy to help!