Tuesday 12 August 2014

How to grow your own butterflies

Butterfly kit

For Christmas we were given a "Grow your own butterfly kit".

<- Something like this

Included is a net (grandly called a "Pavillion").  You then send away for caterpillars, which arrive in a self-contained pot containing an agar-like food substrate which sees them through to the point that they form the chrysalis, which you then transfer to the pavillion to hatch.

Our kids have done this at school and we thought we would have a go at home.

The supplier guarantees that you should get some butterflies.  With each pot containing five caterpillars, from two pots, we got 5 to butterfly stage.  Some were lost at the pupating stage, and some didn’t make it at emerging from the chrysalis, having got tangled up in web.  We did have a couple of 'Special-needs' butterflies with deformed wings due to this problem.

The supplier used  Painted Lady caterpillars, which turn into butterflies like the one below, tastefully feeding from an Echinacea.

The kids gave all the caterpillars names.  'Ninja Guy',  'Weapons Guy', 'Hairy' and 'John' (I kid you not) made it to the butterfly stage. 

I thought it would be cool to film the key events of pupation and hatching - which proved trickier than I had thought.  I used a Microsoft LifeCam Cinema webcam & Raspberry Pi, with video stream captured using iCatcher Software on a networked PC.

This has got to be the grossest thing I have seen for a while....

This  action took place over a 30 minute period, and is speeded up.  Basically the skin of the caterpillar splits at its head, and then sloughs off up its body.  It then wriggles about to push off  the shed skin after which it settled down and the crysalis hardens.  Unfortunatey this was one of our failed attempts since the crysalis formed a really odd shape and it didn't progress.

Butterfly emerging
Much less gross this time, I missed the first one to hatch, but caught two others. Of interest is the red fluid which is ejected which is apparently all the left-over bits of caterpillar that it didnt need to become a butterfly.  I'm sure there is a more technical description, but it was good enough for the kids!

Speeded up over two hours, shows hatching, and wing expansion and expelling of the 'caterpillar juice'.... cool eh?

There are two schools of thought on whether or not to release into the wild.  Some advocate not doing this as these are essentially not wild.  My view is that at worst, we're contributing to the food chain... This is 'Ninja Guy' posing for the camera.

I'm told this is Hairy, but to be honest it could be any of them...

The butterfly net is packed away for next year... ant farm anyone?