The transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly is one of Mother Nature’s most fascinating gifts.
Last summer two Attleboro families watched in wonder as the caterpillars they had collected spun cocoons, which in turn hatched lovely monarch butterflies. They now want to share their experience and encourage you; no matter what age you are to try it for yourself!
Makenzie Killough, 9, recommends this project to families who don’t have pets because it will teach them responsibility for when they do have a pet. “Kids of all ages will learn the parts of the butterfly life cycle," she said.
"It's lots of fun," Aidan Killough, 6, chimed in.
1. Look for eggs. Monarch butterflies lay only one egg at a time on the bottom of a milkweed leaf, during the third week of August.
Aidan says, “Now is the time to begin looking for caterpillar eggs. You look under milkweed leaves. Milkweed is near a garden or along the road. I looked today and still couldn’t find an egg; I did find some slugs and aphid eggs. We found lots of leaves with big bites in them, too.”
“I have never found an egg but there are pictures in my butterfly book showing what they look like," said7-year-old Olivia Sirard. They are like very small, shiny white pearls.”
Even though these three butterfly egg hunters were unsuccessful last year in finding eggs, they did find loads of caterpillars, which had hatched out of the butterfly eggs.
If you find an egg simply put it in a jar and wait until the caterpillar comes crawling out!
2. If you don’t find an egg, that’s okay, look for caterpillars, large and small.
Amazingly, Alexa Sirard who was only 3 at the time remembered what they looked like, “They had stripes. White, yellow and black stripes.”
“Wiggly, too,” Aidan added.
3. Once you have found your caterpillars, you must take good care of them. You don’t have to touch the caterpillar, take the whole leaf with the caterpillar on it.
“I liked watching the caterpillars eat the leaves,” said Elise Sirard, who is 4.
“They need a habitat, food and water," Olivia Sirard said. "You can use a jar but my dad used an old fish tank of ours.
"We put a small bowl of water and added fresh milkweed leaves everyday," she added. "My dad glue-sticked sticks together so the caterpillars would have fun crawling around."
“It was a massive caterpillar playground!” laughed Makenzie.
Some of the caterpillars made their cocoons right on the sticks, according to the Sirard girls, while others made them on the top of the tank.
Just like cleaning up after a turtle, fish or puppy, you have to clean up after a caterpillar, sort of.
“One problem with the tank was cleaning up the poop," the eldest Sirard sister said. "The caterpillars make a lot of poop. Mom and Daddy had to take turns cleaning the tank!”
The Killough kids used a vase and a jar for our their caterpillars, which included a stick in the jar for the caterpillar to climb, fresh milkweed leaves to eat everyday and a wet paper towel to keep the leaves moist.
“As the caterpillars munch the leaves they get fatter and fatter until they climbed to the top and make their body into a hanging letter J,” Aidan Killough said.
4. When the caterpillar hangs in a J, it is ready to prepare its stunning pale green, with a ring of gold, cocoon.
“Watching the caterpillar make its cocoon was my favorite part,” Alexa Sirard remembered.
The Killough kids said it was an exciting experience for the entire family. “Our whole family watched the caterpillar go into the green cocoon," Aidan Killough said.
When the cocoon turns black you know that the butterfly is almost ready to come out. The cocoon starts to shake.
"We watched and watched but as soon as we went out, while we weren’t there, the butterfly came out," Aidan said.
“But we did see the next one come out,” Makenzie added. “It was an experience that I will never forget!”
5. The butterfly emerges.
“It is so cool. The butterfly’s wings are wet so it will sit on your finger until the wings are dry and ready to fly!” concludes Olivia. “All six of our cocoons hatched into butterflies!”
“I would definitely like to bring a caterpillar or cocoon to school if my teacher said I could," said Makenzie.
My classmates would think the butterfly’s life cycle is amazing and they would probably ask me how to do it and where to find the caterpillars."
The five children butterfly reporters hope you will hatch a butterfly yourself!
"It's easy!" said Makenzie.
*Check Wikipedia for photos of monarch butterfly eggs and caterpillars.
*The Butterfly Conservatory and Gardens in South Deerfield, MA is a long drive, but well worth it to be in a room with thousands of different varieies of butterflies.