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Getting Ready for Butterflies

Painted Lady Butterfly

Celebrate Earth Day with Live Butterflies

Live butterflies are a colorful way to celebrate Earth Day while addressing multiple life science topics. We've got everything you need to grow healthy, beautiful butterflies right in your own classroom.

The painted lady butterfly (Vanessa cardui), commonly found throughout North America in open deserts, fields, and roadsides, is one of the most popular insects for classrooms. It is frequently referred to as the "cosmopolitan" because of its wide distribution.

In this article, we'll discuss the painted lady’s life cycle and care and feeding. You'll see how easy it is to care for these beautiful insects and perhaps begin to form some creative ideas about how they can be used to address the topics above. Hands-on activities and research projects involving these butterflies can be used to address the following topics:

  • The miracle of metamorphosis
  • How organisms rely on their environment
  • Differences in animal life cycles
  • How form fits function
  • Interdependence of organisms
  • Butterfly conservation
  • Human impact on nature

Painted lady life cycle

Females may lay eggs 5 to 7 days after emerging as adults. Look for pinhead-sized, mint green dots. Fertile eggs hatch in about 3 days. From the eggs, larvae will emerge and constantly eat for 5 to 10 days before pupating (forming chrysalises). Adults emerge from chrysalises in 7 to 10 days.

Care and feeding

The care and feeding for all for stages of the painted lady's life cycle-egg, larva, pupa, and adult-is relatively simple. Maintain larvae and cups with Painted Lady Culture Medium in an area where they receive indirect light or room light. Keep them out of direct sunlight because it can overheat the cups, killing the larvae. If you do not have culture medium, then provide your larvae with leaves from any of the following plants: mallow, malva, thistle, dandelion, and aster. Note: Avoid touching larvae with your bare hands because salts and oils on your hands can harm the larvae.

Keep larvae at room temperature. Once the larvae mature, they will climb to the top of the cup and form pupae, known as a chrysalises (or chrysalids). An interesting behavior pattern demonstrated by many larvae prior to forming chrysalises is chewing through the paper at the top of the cup. They chew the paper because they are responding to an instinctive urge to disperse before pupating. If larvae chew through the paper, simply remove it and replace it with a fresh piece of tissue paper that is free of lotions or perfumes.

Once the chrysalis is attached to the tissue paper, do not disturb it for at least 2 days. After 2 days, the chrysalis should be hard enough to move into a suitable habitat for adult butterflies. The Carolina™ Butterfly Sanctuary is an excellent butterfly habitat, as it allows you to both view your butterflies and provide them with enough room for flying. Remove the paper with the chrysalis attached, and tape it to the top or side of the habitat, so that the chrysalis hangs in a natural position.

Adult butterflies should emerge in 7 to 10 days and require liquid food. Our butterfly kits include an adult feeding system; however, you can also make a feeder from an empty plastic film canister or plastic soufflé portion cup. Punch a hole in the canister or cup’s lid large enough to insert a white felt wick approximately ¼″ W × 2″ L. As an alternative to the felt wick, you can use a sturdy cotton ball, piece of kitchen sponge, or other absorbent material.

Make a feeding solution by dissolving 2 teaspoons of sugar in a cup of water (1 part sugar : 4 parts water). Fill the feeding system with the sugar water. Dip the wick into the sugar water and then squeeze out the excess. Insert the wick into the hole in the lid, and place the lid on the canister or cup.

The sugar water should be replaced every other day to prevent mold accumulation. You can also create flowers to attract butterflies to the feeder. Using bright pieces of construction paper, cut the shape of a flower, and then cut a hole in the center large enough to fit around the wick. Adult butterflies typically live for one to 2 weeks.

Butterfly kits for your classroom

Carolina offers butterfly kits to fit your classroom needs. Our Butterflies in the Classroom Kits come with everything you need to successfully raise painted lady butterflies from larvae to adults and engage your students in the process of metamorphosis. The teacher's manual will lighten your planning load, as it includes a variety of activity ideas for incorporating butterfly studies into your curriculum.

The Painted Lady Butterfly Amazing Bugs™ Kit is an interactive kit that provides your students with hands-on activities that highlight the butterfly's life cycle, behavior, and biology. Additionally, when you buy the Amazing Bugs™ Kit, you make a donation to purchase and protect one acre of threatened habitat.

The wide-ranging painted lady butterfly is one of the most popular insects for classrooms. We've seen how easy it is to raise them, especially with our kits, and the many topics that you can address with them. You and your students can now develop creative ways to use butterflies to address those topics. For more information on painted lady butterflies and to purchase kits and components, visit www.carolina.com/butterflies or see our latest Carolina™ Science catalog.

Add a colorful twist to your students'learning experience-with Carolina's painted lady butterflies!

Additional resources

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