Our Butterflies have Flown the Coop!

A few weeks ago, I was one of the lucky winners on Surviving A Teacher's Salary (you really should check out Crystal's blog - I love it!) I won an Insect Lore Butterfly Pavilion. Not the little one, the deluxe five-star hotel for butterflies! Along with it came two little jars with five caterpillars in each. The kids (and I) were ecstatic!!!

Sorry, the caterpillar photos didn't turn out

At first, the tiny caterpillars didn't do a whole lot. We got excited to see them even moving. But, after a couple of days, they kicked into hyper-drive - these things were hungry and spent all day eating the waxy brown "special caterpillar food" from the bottom of the jars. It became a ritual for Little Guy to hold each jar before bedtime and give five kisses - one for each caterpillar - before he went to sleep. My oldest would rush home from school to check on their progress each day and then stand, mesmerized, staring at them. And, yes, I found myself wasting lots of time watching them, too. I couldn't believe how much they could eat!

They're still in their fuzzy caterpillar skins here.
One day after school, my oldest called to me from the living room, "Mom!!! Hurry up! Come here RIGHT NOW!" Now, I was in the bathroom at the moment, but the tone in his voice made me think that something really bad had happened. I got into the living room as quickly as possible (with visions of blood or broken bones in my mind) to find him staring into the caterpillar jars. "LOOK! They're hanging upside-down!" Yep, they were still caterpillars, but they were all hanging upside down from the jar lids , looking like little "J's". Over the next couple of hours, they were spastic as they hardened into chrysalises. They slowly wriggled out of their last bit of fuzzy caterpillar skin and became brown, translucent chrysalises.They were pretty cool. The camera couldn't capture the iridescence of the cocoon. It looked like a muddy puddle with a rainbow of gasoline floating on top!

The next step was for me to secure the paper that had lined the lid of the caterpillar jars onto the sides of the pavilion - easier said than done! You see, to protect themselves from wind, rain, and toddlers who like to tap on the sides of jars, these guys weave themselves little safety lines of silk to hold their chrysalises in place. When I opened the jar, these silk threads held tight. I had to use scissors to cut them away from the sides of the jars. Also, one of the papers had been so chewed up by the caterpillars that I couldn't remove it from the plastic lid, so I just taped the entire lid to the top of the pavilion.

For the next week, our routines changed. Whenever anyone thought about it, they'd peek into the pavilion to see if anything was happening. Nothing. Day after day. Little Guy still insisted on saying goodnight, but even he was getting tired of talking to little brown sticks. Then I was awoken at 3am by a tremendous clap of thunder. We had a terrible storm coming and I ran around the house, closing windows and unplugging appliances (we learned about blowing things up when lightning hits power lines last summer!) I sat down to calm down enough for sleep again when I heard scratching. I turned on the light and there was our first butterfly! The next morning, when Little Guy woke up, I showed it to him, expecting him to be excited. Instead, he eyed it suspiciously. I know what he was thinking, "Come on, Mom! I know you put the butterfly in there while I was sleeping! THAT couldn't have come out of those things the caterpillars made!" 
All day, I kept an eye on the pavilion. I wanted him to see a butterfly actually coming out of a cocoon, you know? Sometimes seeing is the only thing that's going to lead to believing. Nada. We still had just that one butterfly at bed time. We balled up a piece of paper towel, set it on a plate, and poured a sugar water mixture onto it so our little friend wouldn't starve, and then said good night. The next morning, I woke up to seven more butterflies! When little guy woke up, I think he was sure I was trying to get one over on him - LOL!
Finally, just before bed time, we all got to watch the last butterfly emerge. It was pretty cool to watch my kids faces as it broke free from the chrysalis and then slowly unfurled its wings! I wanted to take pictures, but the kids were so enthralled that I couldn't break that kind of excitement and concentration just to snap a photo. 
 (Sadly, our last butterfly never came out. My oldest was granted permission to do an autopsy and he discovered that the silk he had spun as a caterpillar had tied him into the cocoon so tightly that there was no way for him to get out unless he had packed a little pocket knife.)

We kept the butterflies for a few days, watching them eat and flutter around. We got a few library books that explained how butterfly mouths are more like straws and that's why we have to make sure the paper towel is always wet.

Sorry about the lighting. This is one of the butterflies eating. We made the paper towel into a flower shape and colored the sugar water a yellowish shade.

Then, on Monday, my oldest was watching them and he got all excited again. "Hey, Mom! Look! We have Siamese butterflies." What is he talking about?! Um... well, here's the picture. Let me just say that it was fun to completely embarrass him on this one. Once I told him what was going on, he just didn't know WHAT to say! LOL (I promised not to bring it up in front of his friends, but I reserve the right to tease him from time to time about it.) The following picture is Rated X:

That's when I decided we needed to let them go! I've had one of these butterfly kits before and, once they lay eggs and they hatch, you end up with hundreds of teeny-tiny caterpillars who can go through the netting all over the place. Sadly, my oldest was scheduled to be picked up for a visit with my brother on Monday night, so he had to miss out on the release.

Little Guy, on the other hand had a great time! Let me tell you just how serious this was to him: He listened to everything I said. He carefully followed directions. He was gentle so he wouldn't hurt his butterflies. All of these are things this kid hasn't done for a long, long time! I was amazed!!!

 I love the concentration on his face in these next two photos!

 Well, that's it! I spied a Swallowtail laying eggs on my dill earlier this week, so I'm going to be keeping an eye on them. Once the caterpillars get big enough, I'll bring in a pot of dill and parsley (they're favorite foods, along with carrot tops) and set them up in the pavilion. We had a ton of fun with them last year and now I have a great pavilion to keep them in instead of quart-size Ball jars!

If you're interested, I suggest trying this out for yourself. It's not only really cool and educational, butterflies are one of the good insects that are being killed off by pesticides. They pollinate flowers for us and are sorely needed! Amazon has the Butterfly Pavilion (with 10 caterpillars) on sale for  $22.14 and the smaller Butterfly Garden (with 5 caterpillars) for only $14.39!

for the amazing giveaway that allowed my kids (and me!) 
to have this great experience!

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