Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Butterflies Are Free

Nature Project for Kids

We released our painted lady butterflies (Vanessa cardui) this weekend. This was a fun and easy project. We raised five of these insects from caterpillars. My son got to see them form chrysalides and emerge as butterflies. 

The manufacturer recommends this project for kids age four and up, but our two-year-old enjoyed it. We purchased our butterfly nursery from Lakeshore; you can also order it from Amazon (search "butterfly pavilion" or see my link below). The nursery package includes a mesh enclosure and a card you send in to get your caterpillars mailed to you. 

Spring is a great time to raise your painted ladies in Southern California; in the wild they migrate to our region from Mexico starting in February (and continuing through April). 

The caterpillars arrive with all the food they'll need until they emerge from their chrysalides. Then you give them some sugar water. We released ours a few days after all five had emerged. As the flew from the nursery, my son exclaimed, "Butterfly come and play with me!"

Painted lady butterflies only live about three weeks, so we wanted them to enjoy nectar from our native plants. Painted lady larvae feed on mallows and lupines. In their butterfly stage they sip from native buckwheats (Eriogonum), yerba santa, and desert lavender (Hyptis emoriyi). More on plants used by painted ladies and other butterfly plants.

All of our caterpillars metamorphosed into butterflies. If yours don't, you can get replacements. And not to worry; this species is common and widespread. (It's sometimes called "Cosmopolitan.")  The experience has increased my son's appreciation for the many butterflies in our yard. He likes to watch them drink from the flowers. 

We're saving our nursery equipment so we can order more caterpillars next year. Want to see butterflies up close with out rearing them? Visit the Natural History Museum's Pavilion of Wings. It recently reopened for the season. 

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