Thursday, April 18, 2013

Raising Painted Ladies

This past month we have been raising butterflies as part of life science at King's Dominion Academy.  We received our newly hatched caterpillars in the mail on March 13.  They came complete with all the necessary food in the bottom of the container, so our job was easy--watch and wait. Here's Day 1:
They started out so small!

They grew very quickly, and while they grew, we learned as much about butterflies as we could.  We checked out stacks of books from the library, printed out worksheets online, and made lots of butterfly crafts. Here's a sampling of what she made:

AR & J painted wooden butterfly magnets

We put together this wooden butterfly, and then painted it to look like a Painted Lady butterfly.

stained-glass butterfly made by melting crayon shavings between two sheets of wax paper with a warm iron
It was so much fun!  I learned so much I had never know before, and we were both amazed at God's handiwork in these small creatures.  Some things we learned:
Anatomy of a butterfly (including scientific names like proboscis, thorax, compound eyes, spiracles, etc.)
Life cycle of a butterfly
Monarch caterpillars and butterflies are poisonous because of the milkweed plant they eat, and animals know not to eat them because of their bright colors and markings.
Painted Lady butterflies (the ones we have) mimic this coloring as a protective measure.
Many butterflies have false eyespots to confuse predators.
Some butterflies migrate thousands of miles.
Butterfly eggs are the size of a pinhead.
You can tell apart a male from a female monarch butterfly by looking for a black scent spot on the bottom of their wings.
Butterflies emit a special smell to attract mates.
The caterpillars shed their skin up to 4 times before their final transformation.
They need a body temperature of 85 degrees in order to fly.  They warm themselves up by shivering or basking in the sun.
Painted Lady caterpillars love to eat thistle, a common weed.
Butterflies taste with their feet.
They suck nectar from flowers by unrolling their tongue and using it like a straw.
When a Painted Lady butterfly emerges from it's chrysalis, there is a byproduct of metamorphosis that looks like blood called meconium.  (We were glad we learned this one, or else we would have been worried when we saw they red marks all over the cage.)

Here they are getting bigger:

And bigger...

About 10 days after we received the caterpillars, the first caterpillar began making a chrysalis, and the others followed suit shortly after.  It's funny to see them hanging from the top of the container looking like a letter "J" before they shed their final layer of skin, which hardens into the chrysalis.  After they all were settled in, we transferred them from the small plastic container to the netted butterfly keeper.

waiting while the mystery transformation happens inside!
On the evening of April 4, we noticed at dinner that there was a butterfly on the side of the cage!  We were so excited, but were all a little disappointed that we missed seeing it emerge from it's chrysalis.  But we had fun looking at it with our magnifying glasses, and we even took it out and held it for a bit after it's wings had dried.  Anna Ruth named the butterfly Beautiful, hoping it was a girl.
Josiah is learning to be a scientist
I held it first to show the kids that it was safe!
It tickles me!

We actually never witnessed an emergence; it seemed like it happened so quickly!  But I did catch one right out of the chrysalis, with it's wings still crumpled up and wet.

See the wings all crumpled up?!
Once they were all butterflies, we put orange and banana slices in the cage, as well as some homemade nectar in a container with a paper towel wick for them to suck it out.  It was fun to watch them drink.  They really seemed to like the fresh fruit more than the nectar.

enjoying a banana slice

With Painted Ladies, you can't tell the males from the females, so you never know what you have, but Anna Ruth decided that we had a couple boys in there in addition to Beautiful, so she and James named the big, obnoxious one Dino.  We also had a butterfly with a large eyespot on the bottom on his wings, so she named him Eyespot.  Another one did not have antennae, had a wierd looking eye, and something wrong with his front left leg, so AR named him Poor Fellow.  About a week ago, we noticed that we had did indeed have some of each, because we got to see them mating!
the lovebirds
Now, we have teeny tiny little greenish eggs on the leaves and the bottom of the cage.  We'll see if we can have another go-around and witness the miraculous life cycle of the butterfly once again!