Hatching and raising butterflies can be a fantastic way to observe the complete metamorphosis of a living creature. When you begin with the eggs, you can follow the development from newly hatched caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly. This type of project can help children understand the stages of the life cycle, encourage butterfly conservation and increase awareness of the surrounding ecosystem. It is also a great way to establish your own butterfly habitat or to encourage butterflies to dwell in your garden and neighbourhood. The guide below outlines the steps you need to follow when ordering and successfully hatching butterfly eggs of your own.
Locate an insect supply company over the Internet, such as Shady Oak Butterfly Farm or Carolina Biological Supply (see Resources).
Read the descriptions of the available butterfly eggs and select the butterflies you would like to raise. If you are planning on releasing them into the great outdoors, be sure to choose a variety that can survive in your climate.
Decide how many butterflies you'd like to raise. Butterfly eggs are generally sold in packages of 30 to 40 per bunch, only about half of which will hatch, even under optimum conditions. And it will take about four weeks to go from eggs to caterpillars to butterflies.
Purchase the appropriate culture medium for your eggs as this will be useful to raise the larvae. Also, check to see which plants you will need to act as suitable host plants for your butterflies. Hungry, malnourished caterpillars will waste away if they do not have the specific host plant they require for adequate nutrition.
Order your eggs and select the fastest delivery method available. Be sure to schedule delivery at a time when someone will be available to accept the package, as eggs are fragile and exposure to the elements may cause a reduction in egg viability.
Set up your habitat using a container with a limited amount of ventilation, such as a three-sided box covered with mesh or a more traditional aquarium-type structure with a screened lid. Too much air will dry out the habitat, but there needs to be some ventilation to prevent overheating. Also, be sure you have access to an ample quantity of the leaves from the required host plant. If at all possible, purchase host plants which have been grown organically, as any plant which has been exposed to insecticides within the previous two months will kill your caterpillars.
Remove the lid from the shipping container when your eggs arrive and add fresh host plant leaves. Wait 24 hours and then transfer the eggs to the prepared habitat, being careful to not dislodge the egg from the leaf it is attached to.
Replace the leaves in the habitat each day. If you find the leaves are dry and crisp within 24 hours, you may need to add a piece of damp paper towel to the habitat to increase the humidity.
Add fresh leaves twice a day once the eggs hatch, to give the young caterpillars a source of food to grow, pupate and become young butterflies.
Never reposition a caterpillar that seems to be "stuck" or you may disrupt the moulting process.