If you follow me on Instagram, chances are you would have seen my daily videos about my latest experience – watching and helping five beautiful caterpillars journey from their larval stages as tiny caterpillars to five beautiful, healthy butterflies which are key to our environment.
The main idea behind this was that whilst the majority of us learnt about caterpillars turning into butterflies early on in our lives, most likely through school, I had never actually seen the phenomenal transformation up close, and was keen to know more and increase my understanding.
I tried my best to take photos when I could at the various stages, so here goes…
This is what my caterpillars looked like when they first arrived. They were about 4mm in length, and were being kept in a clear plastic cup-like housing that contained a layer of food, as can be seen in the photo below. This food contained all of the essential nutrients that they needed to grow.
By day three you can see that they had already grown a huge amount, which isn’t surprising when you learn that they spend their entire days munching away on their food.
It is also very interesting to note that caterpillars do not grow the same as mammals do. In fact, they grow by shedding the outer layer of their skin, which is known as their exoskeleton. So in the simplest terms, as the caterpillars eat and eat and eat, naturally their bodies will get bigger, and to allow for this growth, they must shed their external layer so that their body can expand. Once they have shed this exoskeleton, their new outer layer will harden into a new exoskeleton, and this process will continue until they are at their final size.
By day five, the caterpillars had grown to a wonderful size which allowed us to see their markings and minute features, including their mouths and feet. You can also see a web-like material in the cup. This is actually known as webbing and is a great sign of healthy caterpillars. This webbing protects the caterpillars from dangers, as they use it to stick to their host plants so that any wind does not blow them off the leaves that they need to protect them. They also use the silk webbing as a ladder to move around the cup, as you can see in the photos.
Day seven was a really exciting day as the first caterpillar had begun to build its chrysalis! It is clear that this is happening when the caterpillar climbs to the top of the cup and hangs down in a J-shape, as can be seen in the photo above. The caterpillar will hang down, shed their exoskeleton one last time, and then harden into chrysalides.
By day eight, three caterpillars were forming their chrysalides, whilst the other two were preparing to – an exciting time as the butterfly stage was near!
By day ten all five caterpillars had formed their chrysalides. At this point it was important to wait a full two days until they had all fully hardened before removing the lid and placing them in the chrysalis station, as shown above. This makes it easy and simple to move them into their new enclosure where they would safely develop.
This image shows one of the chrysalides close up so that you are able to see where the caterpillars feet were, and how these have completely hardened and turned a beautiful golden colour. Fascinating hey?
By day seventeen I was incredibly happy to see that all five caterpillars had emerged as beautiful fully-formed butterflies. The images above show the empty shells, demonstrating the way that the butterflies gracefully emerged. The red liquid that you can see is nothing to worry about…it is actually a liquid substance known as meconium and is essential to the creation of healthy butterflies.
As the butterflies emerge their wings are folded and soft. As they spread them out they force the liquid meconium through their vein system which strengthens them. Following this, they expel the leftover liquid out of their body, which is what can be seen around the butterflies.
During the next three days, I filled their enclosure with fruit and fresh flowers sprinkled with nectar. Despite the butterflies being fully formed, they needed 2-3 days to get used to their wings and develop an ability to fly successfully.
By day 21 it was time to release them. Although it was sad to see them go, butterflies are an incredibly important part of our environment – and hopefully they will mate and lay their eggs nearby!
Below are some photos of the butterflies taken just before I released them 🙂
I hope that you have enjoyed following along this wonderful experience of the butterfly life cycle as much as I have enjoyed doing it! If you have any questions, please feel free to message me via my Facebook page here.
For those who missed the daily Instagram videos, I have compiled them here: