Experience a Live Butterfly Kit
You really can't match the learning experience of raising your own butterflies with a live butterfly kit. It gives kids and adults an opportunity for an up-close and personal look at butterfly metamorphosis and provides a whole new appreciation for insects and nature in general. If you buy one at the right time of year, you can even make it a special event when you release your butterflies into the wild.
Insect Lore Butterfly KitsThe most popular live butterfly kits are from Insect Lore, which include Painted Lady caterpillars. There are several different versions of the kits, which can be a bit confusing. Most importantly, you can choose to order the kit with a voucher for caterpillars so you can let Insect Lore know exactly when you want to receive your caterpillars, but you aren't ready for them right away, or you can buy a kit that comes with live caterpillars. If you buy a kit with a voucher, you will have to pay an additional $5 to have the caterpillars shipped. There is also a Gift kit so you can pre-pay the additional voucher fee.
Here are some links to the products on Amazon.com:
KITS WITH VOUCHERS
Live Butterfly Kit with Voucher (not pre-paid) for 10 caterpillars
(comes with a 2-foot high cage versus 1-foot in the kits with 5 caterpillars)
Live Butterfly Kit with Voucher (not pre-paid) for 5 caterpillars
Live Butterfly Kit Gift Set with Voucher (pre-paid) for 5 caterpillars
KITS WITH LIVE CATERPILLARS
Once you receive your caterpillars, it takes 7-10 days for them to go into their chrysalids, and then another 7-10 days for them to emerge as adults. You should give them a couple of days to let their wings dry before you release them. This should help you figure out when you want to receive your caterpillars. If you're giving this to someone as a gift, buy the kit with the voucher and they can decide when they want to receive the caterpillers. It's important to note that these caterpillars can only be shipped if temperatures are no higher than 85 degrees in your area or they can die in the excessive shipping heat. Make sure to keep this in mind when ordering.
Most kits come with a mesh pop-up tent to house the caterpillars and butterflies. This is an awesome cage! We have used it for many other things, including lightning bugs and other cool insects we want to spend a little time with. SUGGESTION - before you use it, place a paper plate in the bottom of it to help it stay clean. Those cute little caterpillers poop A LOT and so do the butterflies. More importantly, when the butterflies first emerge from their chrysalis, their wings drip a red liquid called meconium. It is the leftover metabolic waste from the caterpillar and can stain the mesh housing.
If you don't want a ton of tiny caterpillars to take care of after your butterflies emerge, make sure you release the butterflies within a week of hatching. After that, the adults will start mating and laying eggs in the cage. If this happens, you can place the eggs outdoors on plant life (preferable one that Painted Ladies eat (click here for butterfly plant list). If you keep them even longer, you will end up with a lot of baby caterpillars. If you decide you want to raise these caterpillars, you will need to provide food. Painted Lady caterpillars love to eat thistle, hollyhock, fiddleneck, and malva. Be sure the leaves are pesticide-free and place them near your caterpillars in your habitat. Alternately, you can purchase Painted Lady Caterpillar Food on Amazon.