Life Cycle Observations of Our Painted Lady Butterflies

Life Cycle Observations of Our Painted Lady Butterflies

Day 1

Our caterpillars have arrived! The care information that came with our caterpillars says that they are in their 2nd instar, which means they have shed their skins once. They are so tiny!

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Day 3

They have almost doubled in size! There is also alot of these little balls, same colour as the food, collecting on top of the food. Through research, we learnt that those little balls are “frass,” or caterpillar waste. It means our caterpillars are eating and growing!

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Day 5

They are getting so big! More frass is collecting on top of the food, and some webbing is starting to appear. Through research, we learnt that this is a good sign! The webbing protects the caterpillars from many dangers. Caterpillars use the webbing to stick to their host plants, as the wind can easily blow them off the leaves. Caterpillars also use the silk to pull leaves around themselves to hide from predators that might like to eat them!

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Day 8

This morning we cleaned the cup. Care instructions told us that we MUST open the container and empty the waste to allow easy access to food after 6 to 8 days. Clearing the webbing is very important, especially as the caterpillars are getting closer to going into the chrysalis stage. The web may get in the way.

We used a pencil to gently move the caterpillars onto the lid and clear the webbing. We dumped the frass into the garbage, and put the caterpillars back into the cup. They spent the day eating on the bottom or resting on the top. At times, they seemed very inactive. Through research, we learnt that, like us, caterpillars need to rest and digest their food. But just wait! Your caterpillars will become more and more active as they eat the food at the bottom of the cup. Eating and growing is what they do best!

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Day 11

Our caterpillars have developed to the chrysalis stage, and have attached themselves to the paper liner on the lid!!! We noticed some of the frass that had collected over the last few days was a red and that there were some red stains on the paper liner. Through research, we learnt that red frass is a sign that the caterpillars are done eating.

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Day 12

Our caterpillars have pupated, entering the chrysalis stage. Our care information advised that we were not to disturb them for 2 days, so as to allow the chrysalis to harden before transferring to the butterfly habitat. Through research, we learned the black bits that remain outside the chrysalis are the remains of the last exoskeleton shed by our caterpillars before pupating/changing into a chrysalis.

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Day 14

We transferred our chrysalis into their new butterfly habitat today. Our care instructions advised us to line the bottom of the habitat with paper towel first. Then, it said to gently remove the lid and tape the paper liner, with the attached chrysalis, to the ceiling of your butterfly habitat. Our habitat did not have a surface we could tape to (it is netting), so we followed their suggestion to pin a thick sheet of paper (big enough to cover the inside of your roof) using lots of pins. Once the paper was attached to the roof, you can easily tape the chrysalis to the paper.

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Day 22

A beautiful painted lady butterfly had emerged this morning! It was still hanging up by its chrysalide to dry off its wings. Throughout the day, another emerged as well. The care information that came with our butterflies said that when the butterflies emerge, they will hang for several hours to dry their wings. We went out and purchased some orange Poweraid for our butterflies, as the care information suggested this as an alternative to feeding them flowers. The orange Poweraid specifically has a composition similar to nectar. Trying not to disturb the butterflies, we painted the sides of the habitat with the Poweraid and also dropped in a cotton ball soaked with Poweraid for them to eat.

We now understood the need for the paper towel at the bottom of the habitat. When emerging, butterflies expel a red liquid called meconium, which is the leftover part of the caterpillar that was not needed to make the butterfly. This meconium is stores in the intestine of the butterfly and is expelled after the butterfly emerges.

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Day 23

All of our beautiful butterflies have emerged. We have one female and two male butterflies. Through some research, we were able to identify the differences between the sexes. Because of their egg mass, females have a larger, more rounded abdomen than males. If you look at your butterflies from above, the male butterfly’s abdomen has straight sides, while the female’s is curved.

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Day 29

We released our butterflies today, as this was the warmest day of the week. It is ideal to release your butterflies within a week after they have emerged from their chrysalides. It is important to release the butterflies when the temperature exceeds 13 degrees Celcius because, like all insects, butterflies are cold-blooded. One cooler days, butterflies must warm their flight muscles in a sunny spot before they can fly. If a butterfly has to sit still for long, it may be vulnerable to a predator.

During their time with us, we also fed them watermelon and strawberries, in addition to continuing to brush the sides with Poweraid and the putting the Poweraid soaked cotton balls in the bottom of the habitat.

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If you have experienced the life cycle yourself, share photos with us on FB, Twitter or Instagram using #scbutterflies and we will be sure to feature them! 

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