One night while eating dinner, my daughter looked at the bouquet of wildflowers on our table, and exclaimed “Look! A caterpillar!” Sure enough, there on a Queen Anne’s lace was a tiny, tiny caterpillar – the same size as the tiny, single dark red flower in the center.
We carefully placed the flower and caterpillar in a large plexiglass bug cage, and went out and picked a handful of fresh Queen Anne’s lace flowers. With the stems placed inside layers of soaking wet paper towels and secured in a ziplock baggie, the flowers will stay fresh for days. We also placed a stick diagonally inside for when he (she?) is ready to crawl up and form the chrysalis.
He ate like a pig for over a week, and we kept adding fresh flowers every couple of days. This morning there was a chrysalis. In less than 2 weeks the butterfly should emerge, stretch out his wings, then wave them slowly up and down to dry. We’ll have to be sure to release him soon after this happens.
Raising a butterfly, and watching him change from tiny little caterpillar to big fat caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly, is fun and awe inspiring. If you find a caterpillar you can probably figure out what type of butterfly it will be based on the plant you found it on. For example, Queen Anne’s lace = most likely black swallowtail; milkweed = most likely monarch.
Be sure to have a safe, spacious environment that allows room for a butterfly. Make sure the kids know not to handle the caterpillar or butterfly unless you’re watching (don’t handle the chrysalis at all). Place the cage in a safe spot, where it won’t get knocked over by accident. Check online to see what your caterpillar likes to eat, and keep plenty of fresh food available. According to Wikipedia, black swallowtail caterpillars eat a diet consisting of dill, fennel, Queen Anne’s lace, and parsley. Once the chrysalis is formed, check often (4-5 times a day) to see if a butterfly has started to emerge. Be ready to let it go once the wings are out. When it starts to fly, it will need to go and find food right away.
And don’t forget to take lots of pictures, so your kids can remember this miracle of nature!
Some pics from Wikipedia: