Finally our jar of caterpillars arrived in the mail. It was fascinating to watch the tiny caterpillars, which arrived in a jar filled with food, grow to many times their size as they consumed the food and spun caterpillar silk. Eventually they started to hang head down from the top of the jar, and they turned into chrysalides. Painted Lady chrysalides are gorgeous in a muted way, a creamy beige with metallic coppery accents. Once all of the caterpillars had transformed, I transferred them into the butterfly habitat. The directions said we should tape the paper circle (from the inside of the jar lid so that the chrysalides attach to something transferrable) to the side of the butterfly garden, but tape wouldn't stick to the mesh. A safety pin worked really well.
The chrysalis turns very dark right before the butterfly emerges. Lovely lady and I were working on her algebra lesson when we looked up and noticed a butterfly drying its wings. We all watched three more butterflies as they emerged. We'd envisioned something similar to the struggle when a baby bird hatches from the egg, but the butterflies emerged very quickly. So quickly that we weren't sure we'd actually gotten to see them leave the chrysalis even though we'd been watching. We dropped our regular science and nature study for the day to draw and observe the butterflies most of the morning, as their wings dried and they began to move around the habitat. It was fascinating to watch them furl and unfurl their proboscis as they dried their wings. One of my favorite things about the Merriam-Webster online dictionary is that you can listen to the pronunciation of words like "proboscis." We were relieved to hear that you can pronounce it "pro-BOS-kiss" or "pro-BOS-sis," which meant that everyone was pronouncing it properly. Almost everyone. For entertainment, try teaching a four-year-old to say "proboscis." Delightful. Or you could just say "butterfly tongue" and be somewhat, though not entirely, correct.
We've gotten to see more of the proboscis as they feast on orange slices and drops of sugar water drizzled on fresh flowers. We've also learned about butterfly meconium, leftover dye and wing material, and we looked at an empty chrysalis under the microscope, which was beautiful. In the late afternoon the butterflies fly to the top of the habitat and slowly open and close their wings, which is both lovely and distracting. We're trying to decide what to do with them now. "Surely it will be warm enough to release them by April," I thought when I marked the postcard-sending date on my calendar. Three mornings ago it was thirty-seven degrees, far colder than the recommended fifty-five. I'm trying to find somewhere to buy small hollyhock, sunflower, or mallow plants so that we can give the butterflies a place to lay eggs and have something to feed the caterpillars, since I have no idea what might be in that specially formulated caterpillar-food-in-a-jar. I'm headed to the garden store downtown tomorrow to look, or maybe I'll find something at the Farmer's Market on Saturday. It would be wonderful to watch the whole process all over again then release some butterflies into the back yard.
A Painted Lady butterfly lesson plan, including pictures of the life cycle, a diagram of the parts of the butterfly, a vocabulary list, and links to other sites on the painted lady butterfly and butterflies in general.
Painted Lady butterfly coloring and information sheet here, and Painted Lady life cycle coloring and information sheet here, both from Enchanted Learning. I was hesitant to join Enchanted Learning but it's been well worth the cost. I use it often, especially for science and geography printouts.
Gorgeous pictures of the Painted Lady butterfly and its life cycle here.
Yukon Butterflies, a fantastic site that includes records of butterfly observations, butterfly activities, life cycle coloring pages, online butterfly games and a resource page.