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Congratulations on receiving your Painted Lady Butterfly kit! We are excited and grateful to share this experience with you and hope the following instructions will help guide you through the process.
The life cycle and metamorphosis of these majestic insects is a delicate one, however, their presence in our environment is of the utmost importance. Please take note of the instructions below to ensure the successful release of your butterflies. Additional information can be found on our blog and FAQs.
When your caterpillars first arrive, safely inspect your package to ensure there is no physical damage to the package. Please take pictures of any damage you may notice.
Open the box and remove the contents, carefully placing the caterpillar cups on a clean, flat, room-temperature surface, free of any chemical cleaners or other unnatural substances. Do not place them in direct sunlight (e.i. window sill).
Each plastic cup provided has a tissue paper liner beneath the lid with a single caterpillar contained inside. At the bottom of each cup there is an artificial diet that if exposed to room environments will dry out and become inedible for the caterpillars. Throughout the growth process, please keep the lids closed with the tissue paper liner in place. Also, do not combine any caterpillars into a single container, as this will dry out their artificial diet as well.
Carefully inspect the lid of the cup to ensure there are 1-2 tiny holes for airflow. If for some reason you do not see these holes, please use a needle smaller than the caterpillar to make these holes to ensure they do not escape. Although there is enough air in the cups for the caterpillars to survive, these tiny holes provide additional circulation.
As the caterpillars consume their artificial diet, they will produce yellow/brown balls known as frass (caterpillar waste). Furthermore, the caterpillars will generate some webbing to move around the cup. Every 3 days, carefully remove the lid and using the provided caterpillar cleaning and hygiene brush, delicately clean out the webbing. You can also use a Q-tip in place of the hygiene brush. Please do not clean around the caterpillar if it is not moving, as it may be going through an instar and shedding its skin.
Caterpillars have 5 stage growth cycles, known as instars; each instar is indicated by skin shedding. Their shedded skin will appear as small black curled or balled pieces. These pieces must also be cleaned out in the same manner as the frass and web. Although some frass (yellow) balls should be cleaned, do not fully clean out or empty the cup. Painted lady caterpillars prefer these environments and also lead to a higher success rate. The less they are disturbed during their growth stages, the better.
Throughout the growth process, you may notice the tissue paper liner become wet from condensation or it may develop rips for some reason. In that event, please replace it with tissue paper or paper towel.
The caterpillar will consume all the food on its own, without any help, until it reaches the chrysalis stage, also known as the pupa stage. Most commonly, it is confused with the term cocoon (the term for moths), however, butterflies make pupas. Although it may seem as though the caterpillars are running low on their artificial diet, it has been carefully measured, and when low, it means they are close to the chrysalis stage. When a caterpillar generates a small red ball, it means they are ready to pupate and are done consuming their artificial diet.
To have a successful pupa formation and emergence of an adult painted lady butterfly:
– Keep out of direct sunlight or away from a direct bulb or light. Light should be evenly distributed around your kit to avoid condensation from forming inside and drowning the larva.
– Some of you may have 3 day old larvae, very tiny. Keep in a warmer part of your house like a laundry room or kitchen where you cook or a room that is warm from the sun but not in the direct light. This will help your larvae to grow faster.
– If you start to see any condensation or water vapors on the inside of your cup, please open the top and let it air out until the condensation is gone. Do not do this if your larva has already started to pupate or gone into the J position on the paper liner.
Approximately one week after receiving your kit, please replace the paper liner if your larvae has not already attached itself to pupate. This will give your cup a dryer, crisper paper liner and the larvae will be less likely to fall off of it when it begins to pupate. In some instances the larvae even eat holes into the paper, so we like to see the paper liner replaced after approximately one week. This step is not required, however it is recommended.
– Do not touch the food or the larva with your hands as this transfers bacteria into the sterile environment.
– Wear gloves when it is necessary to move anything inside the cup and use a brush.
– After a few weeks, your larva will attach itself to the paper liner and form a J position. The next day it will pupate and be a chrysalis. Do not disturb it during the transition to a chrysalis or it will be ruined or crippled. Let it dry and harden for 48 hours.
– After the 48 hours, remove the lid and put it aside. Put the paper liner with the hardened pupae aside as well.
– Clean out the cup and allow it to dry.
– Cut a clean piece of paper towel approximately 2 inches by 4 inches and place it in the container so it covers the bottom of the container, comes up the sides, and hangs over the lip. The paper towel should press firmly against the bottom and sides, not sit loosely. Place the paper liner back on top with the pupae still attached, and delicately but firmly put the lid back on.
– If the chrysalis has been dislodged from the lid, you can use Elmer’s glue to glue it back on or lay it on the bottom on the paper towel and when it emerges the butterfly will use the paper towel as a ladder and climb back up to spread its wings and dry.
– Butterflies will emerge in 7 – 10 days after the chrysalis state. If you see red fluid in the container, don’t worry – it is not blood. It is the excess fluid that is required to fill the wings.
– Butterflies can be kept in a larger container with air holes, but don’t handle them until their wings dry, about two hours after emergence. It is best to open the smaller container and let them fly out into the larger container or cage. If you use an aquarium, insert climbing assists such as sticks. Additionally, you can line the sides with netting to help them have something to cling to.
– IMPORTANT: if you have pets in the house and use Advantage and/or any other flea and tick killer, you should not handle butterflies, uncover lids, or handle anything around butterflies. Tick killers such as Advantage will kill butterflies. Wash hands and wear gloves whenever handling the butterflies or their habitat.
– You can feed butterflies sugar water (about 9 parts water to 1 part sugar) on a cotton ball or cotton swab. Cut watermelon or cut orange slices that are scored to make the juice come out also works well. Butterflies also like Orange Gatorade. Whichever form of nectar you choose, make sure to change nectar daily as it will ferment.
– If you plan to release your butterflies within 48 hours of emergence, don’t bother feeding them; they will not be hungry.
Additional important information for successful pupa formation and emergence of an adult painted lady butterfly:
– At all growth stages, keep out of direct sunlight or away from the direct light of a bulb. Light should be evenly distributed around your kit to avoid condensation from forming inside and drowning the larva.
– In some instances, you may have 3 day old larvae, which is very tiny. Keep the larvae in a warmer part of your house like a laundry room,the kitchen where you cook, or a room that is warm from the sun but not in direct sunlight. This will help your larvae grow faster.
– If you start to see any condensation or water vapors on the inside of your cup, please open the top and allow it to air out until the condensation is gone. However, do not do this if your larva has already started to pupate or gone into the J position on the paper liner.
The paper liner is in place for the caterpillar to pupate and to hang from using webs they create. 24-48 hours after the caterpillar pupates and hardens, carefully remove the lid of the cup; the caterpillar should be attached to the paper liner. Then, remove the paper liner and tape it to the roof of the net cage, suspending the chrysalis for hatching.
There may be a possibility that the pupa forms directly on the lid or on the floor of the cup, which is fine. In this case, the pupa can be transferred using the “string method”. For detailed instructions on the “string method”, please visit our video gallery.
It is perfectly normal for the caterpillars to develop into pupae at different times. Within 24-48 hours of moving into the chrysalis stage, move the pupa into the net cage; they do not need to all be moved at the same time. Before moving the caterpillars into the net cage, line the bottom of the cage with a paper towel to protect it from the natural excrement described below.
Temperature dependent, the pupa generally hatches in 10-12 days; the pupa requires no assistance during this process. When emerging, butterflies expel a red liquid called meconium, which is the leftover part of the caterpillar that was not needed to make the butterfly. This meconium is stored in the intestine of the butterfly and is expelled after the butterfly emerges. This usually takes a few minutes, and once completed, any access will be excreted from the butterfly and will drop to the bottom of the cage.
In the wild, painted lady butterflies have a short lifespan of approximately two weeks. This lifespan is shortened if they remain in the net cages after hatching. We encourage you to release the butterflies within 1-3 days of hatching, weather permitting.
For further information on feeding the butterflies and the best conditions for release, we have created a specific blog related to these topics with more in depth information. If you feel something is missing from this blog entry or any other, please write to us so we may update our content accordingly.
Thank you for carefully reading and following these instructions to ensure the healthy development and metamorphosis. In the wild, for every 100 butterfly eggs laid, only 1 reaches the butterfly stage. It is through our experience and following the kit instructions that we have a near perfect success rate. Despite the near perfect success rate, we acknowledge that not all butterflies will emerge in perfect form, and may have developmental issues including deformities and in rare occasions, death. This happens commonly in the wild, however, it is rare to see when raised in an enclosure. This critical part of the very often fragile butterfly life cycle should be included in all educational materials being used in conjunction with our kits, including the possibility of expiration.
Our FAQ and blog are constantly being updated to provide the most updated information on the proper care and expected development of the butterflies. We encourage you to share any pictures, videos, or notes on your experience so we may share it with all others who may be facing something similar.
Again, we thank you for choosing to raise and release butterflies and joining this ever growing community of people helping this important cause.