If you have a child that loves butterflies, why not raise your own? You don’t need anything special, and you don’t even need to order eggs if you live near some milkweed plants! This is a fun observation activity that, when approached correctly, can be an incredibly educational activity.
You’ll need a few things to get started:
A supply of milkweed plants.
Monarch caterpillars (the type shown in the picture above.) These can be found on milkweed plants, which are the caterpillars’ food source.
A fish or insect tank.
Raising Monarch butterflies is simple. Just find some caterpillars in the spring. Butterflies will lay eggs on milkweed plants, so that’s where you should look. Collect a few stripey caterpillars and a lot of milkweed for them to munch. Put everything in a tank or enclosure. Make sure you have a lid, because these little guys can climb! You may also want to put a stick in for the caterpillar to climb on when he’s ready to change. They’re pretty resourceful, and if need be, the will make their chrysalises right on the lid of your tank.
Make sure your caterpillars always have a fresh supply of milkweed so they grow fat and healthy. Caterpillars will eat a lot at this stage, but they won’t do much else.
Eventually, the lazy little caterpillars will get to work. Each will move to a high area and create a chrysalis, a little pouch where he can rest while his body changes. The chrysalis starts out green, but when the butterfly is almost ready to hatch, it will become transparent. If you look close enough, you can actually see the butterfly inside at this point, but don’t disturb him any more than necessary.
When the Monarch butterfly hatches, he will need some down time. He will hang up until his wings are dry and he’s able to fly. When you are done observing your butterflies, release them so they can eat and prepare for the fall migration.
There are several educational topics you can cover during this experiment, and they don’t all have to be scientific. For example, you can take a look at mathematical topics such as measurement, estimation, and counting. There are a variety of art projects that can stem from this experiment. You can read stories like “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” and compare that to what really happened. Children can also journal, keeping note of their findings, or write creative pieces about their new fluttery friend.
Overall, be sure that your caterpillar has food and be sure that it is being treated safely and respectfully.