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From Caterpillars to Butterflies

Early this year, my mum’s colleague passed us three little caterpillars, after hearing that I was looking for caterpillars to let Noah learn about the life cycle of butterflies. Noah was really excited, and tried his best to “help” when I wanted to feed the caterpillars, or clean their containers. I got him to name them, because I wanted him to feel a sense of ownership, and he happily named them after his three favourite playgroup friends (all girls, might I add).

Noah loved watching the caterpillars, and we were so thrilled when we got to witness two of them shedding their skin. Unfortunately, all three caterpillars died after I fed them leaves from a lime plant that I purchased from the nursery. On hindsight, I think the lime plant was probably treated with pesticide, as nurseries would most likely not want caterpillars munching away on their plants. I felt so bad, and had a tough time explaining to Noah that his caterpillars had died. The poor boy kept asking me why!

Our first three caterpillars


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Observing the caterpillars


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Caterpillars eat and poop A LOT!


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Happily holding his container of caterpillars


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Recently, our neighbour showed us some caterpillars on his lime plant, and I asked if we could have them, so that we could try rearing them again. He kindly put them into a container for us, and told me to take as many leaves as I wanted from his lime plants whenever I needed to feed them. Each time C or I went to pick the leaves, Noah would put on his sandals on his own, in record time, and eagerly helped us to hold the leaves for his caterpillars.

This time round, I decided against naming the caterpillars, and just numbered them 1 to 4. The caterpillars were also older than the ones we got the last time, as they had already turned green, instead of being black/dark brown with white markings. (Their appearance changes after the fifth instar, and you can read more about the Swallowtail/Common Lime butterfly and its life stages HERE.)

Caterpillars 1 to 4


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I put them into individual recycled containers, and punched holes in the lids with a belt hole puncher which I got from NTUC. Just before the caterpillars entered the chrysalis stage, I added half a satay stick at the top, so that they could “hang” there, but two of the four caterpillars decided to use the sides of the containers instead. If we have the opportunity to rear caterpillars again, I would probably use a taller and larger container, so that they would have more space to spread their wings when they emerge. Our first butterfly had slightly bent wings, but looked perfectly fine after we released it.

Difference between Pupa, Chrysalis, and Cocoon


Caterpillar 1 was the first to move into the chrysalis stage, and a few hours before it did, it released some greenish liquid. I freaked out when I saw it, especially when a Dayre friend said that caterpillars usually vomit when they are stressed. Google said something similar, and I was so worried that the caterpillar would die. It was no longer eating nor pooping, even after I gave it fresh leaves, and cleared its poop and discharge. After a while, I noticed that it had gone onto the satay stick, and hung there upside-down. Hours later, the curvature became more pronounced, and when we woke up the next morning, it was in its chrysalis, with a small ball of what looked like its skin, beneath it.

Number 1 and the greenish liquid


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Getting ready to build its chrysalis


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Chrysalis Number 1


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I saw Number 2 crawling around busily in its container that morning, and figured it was looking for a place to hang, so I gave it a satay stick as well. However, it chose to cling to the side of the container, which allowed me to open the lid, and take close-up shots of it.

Number 2


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See how it has become more curved?


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Chrysalis Number 2


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Number 3 also chose not to use the satay stick, and clung to the side of its container.

Number 3


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Number 4 used the satay stick, but it hung precariously on a very thin thread, and I was so worried that it would fall off. It made me wonder how they survived in the wild, especially if there were strong gusts of wind blowing at them. I gave Noah strict instructions not to touch the containers, as he loved to stand on his stool to peer at them, and thankfully, he was good and didn’t touch them at all.

Number 4


Noah and his four chrysalis


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All four caterpillars released the same green liquid before they entered the chrysalis stage, so if you see the liquid, you can stop giving your caterpillar leaves. I think they took about 7 to 9 days to emerge from the chrysalis, but because they entered the chrysalis stage on different days, we had the joy of waking up to a new butterfly four times. The chrysalis turns darker the day/night before the butterfly emerges, as you can see the wings of the butterfly through the translucent chrysalis, and Noah would get really excited whenever he saw the change.

We woke up to the beautiful sight of Butterfly 1 in its container, with some brownish liquid beneath the empty chrysalis. Butterfly 1’s wings were slightly bent at the top, so we quickly brought it out of the house to release it. It flew onto the base of our neighbour’s shoe rack, and stayed there for a long time, slowly flapping its wings. Butterflies usually need to air and dry their wings when they first emerge, so it is important to give them enough space to do so. When we checked on it a while later, its wings had thankfully straightened out, and it flew off shortly after.

The night before


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Good morning!


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Empty chrysalis


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Airing its wings outside


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Since Chrysalis 2 was on the side of its container, I figured I could leave the lid off, and cover it with a netted food cover, to prevent it from flying around in our house when it emerged at night. However, when we woke up the next morning, I was horrified to find Butterfly 2 lying on the bottom of its container, and realised that its wings were stuck there on the brownish liquid. I quickly tilted the container and guided it out with a satay stick. It clung to the outside of the container even after I brought it outside, and it stayed there for more than half an hour, until we got home after sending C to work. Noah ran towards it, and probably frightened it, because it flew into the drain for a while, before flying up onto our neighbour’s laundry on the railing.

The night before


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Clinging tightly to the container


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Noah looking at it in the drain


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On the laundry


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Managed to get a photo of Noah with the butterfly!


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Absolutely gorgeous


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Butterfly 3 managed to make its way out of the container and onto the netting of the food cover, all by itself. I only managed to take one photo of it, as C released it while I was busy trying to help Noah put on his sandals. The butterfly flew straight to our closed windows, and C hurriedly opened the windows so that it could fly out.

Butterfly 3


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The last butterfly emerged on a Saturday, so we brought it downstairs to the park, and released it together. Noah got to say bye to it (you can watch it in the video below), and was quite happy about it. He was initially a tad upset that the butterflies had to be released, but was appeased when I explained to him that the butterflies needed to look for their own food from the flowers, and we didn’t have any to feed them.

Butterfly 4


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So excited about going to release the butterfly


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Releasing our last homegrown butterfly


It was a really fun and interesting experience, watching the caterpillars grow into butterflies, and I’m so glad we got to do it properly this time round. We visited the Penang Butterfly Farm last year, and Noah got to release a butterfly then too, but I think this definitely left a stronger impression on him. I loved how he would ask if the caterpillars were ready to become butterflies every morning, and how he would carry his own stool over to the counter to look at them quietly. We also read some books about caterpillars (I’ll share more in one of the upcoming Friday Flips), which I think helped to keep Noah interested when they were all in the chrysalis stage, and he couldn’t see them moving or eating.

PS. Please excuse the photo quality of the caterpillars and chrysalis in the containers. I didn’t want to move them around too much!

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