Most of us have fond memories of a jar captured caterpillar and its metamorphosis in spring. Teaching kids about caterpillars informs them of the cycle of life and the importance of every living thing on this planet. It is also a feat of natural magic that widens the eyes and amazes the senses. Get some tips here on how to raise butterflies and help your kids enjoy the miracle of transformation that takes place from squishy caterpillar to elegant butterfly.
Raising Caterpillars and Butterflies
There are many stages a caterpillar has to endure before finally emerging as a moth or butterfly. Each phase is fascinating and has a lesson to teach. Raising caterpillars and butterflies provides a window into one of nature’s little miracles and is a unique way to add beauty and mystery to your garden.
You can build a butterfly house to raise and attract these beautiful insects, or simply go low tech and use a mason jar. Either way, the experience will take you back to your childhood and yield a bond between you and your child.
Teaching kids about caterpillars allows you a unique opportunity to show them the steps in a life cycle. Most caterpillars go through five instars, or stages of growth, followed by the pupal phase and then adulthood. Caterpillars are actually the larvae of any number of winged insects. Remember, the biology lessons of your elementary school years and you will know that these are the babies of the fabulous butterflies and moths found in your region.
Butterflies are beloved for their beauty and grace and a natural choice to raise and teach children about this intriguing life cycle.
How to Raise Butterflies
There is a seemingly endless variety of colors, tones, sizes and forms of butterflies and moths. Each has a particular host plant, so your best bet for capturing one of the larvae is to look under and around leaves.
- Milkweed attracts Monarch butterflies.
- Several species of moth target our veggies, such as tomato and broccoli.
- On parsley, fennel or dill, you may find the black swallowtail butterfly larvae.
- The huge impressive Luna moth enjoys feasting on walnut tree leaves and sweetgum.
If you don’t know what you have captured, don’t worry. In time the resulting moth or butterfly will be revealed. The best time to go hunting caterpillars is spring and again in fall, but they are also abundant in summer. It simply depends what species is currently getting ready to pupate.
Butterfly Activities for Kids
Raising caterpillars and butterflies is easy and fun. Build a butterfly house around a found caterpillar by framing a target plant with a tomato cage and netting.
You can also bring the caterpillar indoors in a Mason jar or aquarium. Just ensure the opening will be large enough to release a winged creature without damaging it.
- Poke holes in the lid to provide air and line the bottom of the container with 2 inches (5 cm.) of soil or sand.
- Provide the larvae with the leaves from the plant upon which you found the creature. You can save some leaves for daily feeding in the refrigerator in a bag with a moist paper towel. Most caterpillars will need one to two leaves per day.
- Put some sticks inside the container for the caterpillar to spin its cocoon upon. Once the caterpillar forms a chrysalis or cocoon, place a damp sponge inside the enclosure to provide moisture. Keep the bottom of the enclosure clean and mist the container occasionally.
Emergence will depend upon the species and the length of time it takes for it to complete its metamorphosis. You can keep the butterfly or moth for a few days to observe it in a mesh cage but make sure to release it so it can continue its reproductive cycle.