Mail Order Butterflies

Beautiful and graceful, varied and enchanting, small but approachable, butterflies lead you to the sunny side of life. And everyone deserves a little sunshine. 

Jeffrey Glassberg

Have you ever heard of an at home butterfly kit? It’s an actual kit you can purchase, that includes everything you need to watch caterpillars turn into butterflies. I’ve seen them in stores, typically specialty toy stores but have recently spotted a few even in places like Target. They’re becoming more and more popular as people are seeing how amazing it is to have a front row seat to metamorphosis. We ordered our kit off of Amazon. It costed us roughly $26 (at the time) shipped to our door step, caterpillars included! The kits that you find on a shelf somewhere won’t include live caterpillars inside, for obvious reasons. They typically come with a coupon in the box and a code to enter on the product’s website to claim your caterpillars and have them sent to the address you provide.

When our kit arrived, it was very well labeled and precise with directions on how to successfully aid our caterpillar’s transformation. Our job: do basically nothing. The caterpillars came in a plastic ventilated container filled about a quarter of the way with a brown gummy material. The brown gummy material was all the food the caterpillars needed to sustain them until it was time for their big transition. The caterpillars doubled in size every couple of days, as they literally spent their entire day eating (and pooping). It took our caterpillars about 8 days from the day that we got them to when they formed their chrysalis. In the days right before they wrapped themselves up, they started creating a web like substance that filled the container. We got a little nervous, wondering if they would be able to break through it to get up to the lid where they should hang their cocoons, but they managed just fine!

They made their journeys to the lid of the container and hung themselves by their tails and became completely still. They gradually started shedding segments of themselves, some remaining stuck to the lid beside them and others falling to the bottom of the cup. After a few minutes of hanging, they began to change colors and formed a tough shell like substance until their original black fuzzy body was now smooth and brown with iridescent accents. I should probably mention that our kit contained the caterpillars that would eventually become Painted Lady butterflies. I think this the typical breed you’ll find in a kit, as their morphing cycle is fairly quick. But do note, if you decide to purchase a kit, it may not contain the same type of caterpillars which could vary your results.

After our caterpillars had formed their cocoons on the lid of the container, we removed it and placed it onto a stand that came with our kit that held them at a 90 degree angle. We then placed them (and the stand) inside of the netted habitat provided. There they stayed motionless for what felt like an eternity, but was only 7 days. On day 7, we noticed that the cocoons were darker than they were before and we could see glimpses of the orange details that would later paint the butterfly’s wings. Then it happened, one moved.. then a split.. and one by one, each butterfly emerged.

Now here’s the part that I had to make a point to share. As the butterflies broke their way into world, they weren’t the graceful, elegant creatures that we see fluttering around from flower to flower. They still had quite a bit of transforming left to do. Once they were standing up, they stood in the same place for hours, shaking their bodies. Their antennae were curled and their wings were still folded and dull. They released a red liquid called meconium, from their rear end which looked like blood. Meconium is the butterflies first poop. Much like a newborn baby’s first poop, it’s a release of waste and fluids that were built up inside of their system during the “cooking” process.

So we had folded, frail, bloody bugs which left us wondering… did we do something wrong?? But as the hours went on, we noticed that the shaking was actually pumping life into the butterfly’s body and wings. Their colors became more vibrant. They started to look like the beautiful butterflies that we all know and love. We made them a solution of sugar water, per the kit’s instruction and once each butterfly had gotten used to its new body, they indulged in a well deserved refreshment. We kept the butterflies for a day to admire and then released them.

I couldn’t help but to be inspired by this process. It was so amazing to actually witness such an incredible and truthfully, quite brutal transformation. We’ve all heard the analogies of how situations in life are similar to the life cycle of a butterfly, and how good times will come and grant you wings to fly onto better things. But after viewing the persecution that these creatures endured.. detaching parts of its body, completing a total body makeover in extremely tight quarters, and just when they thought they had broken free, there was still more change needed to be done.. I’ll never look at butterflies quite the same. I have a new found respect for the graceful beings that frolic around so happily. Imagine coming out so beautifully on the other side of your tough situation. When it’s all said and done, I learned about a lot more than just butterflies from this process.

I highly recommend your family to order your very own butterfly kit. It is such a fascinating experience to be able to share as a family! Every once in a while still, we have Painted Ladies in our back yard and they bring us a little extra joy. This may be a yearly project for us, if for nothing more than the simple reminder to slow down and just enjoy the process.

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