One way to get kids interested in gardening and raising their own food is through learning about the wildlife that show up in the garden. Raising butterflies, those fun creatures that flutter around the garden seemingly randomly, introduces kids to the life cycle of living things plus teaches them to handle wildlife with care and respect.
A Live Butterfly Garden is an all inclusive kit that can get your family started just for $15. It comes with a small butterfly habit along with a coupon to send away for live caterpillars and their food. If you already have a butterfly kit, you can give the gift of live caterpillars. Just remember to tell the kids the live caterpillars are sent in the spring when the temperatures are warm enough for them to go through their life cycle.
We first started raising butterflies when I was homeschooling my oldest son. Insect Lore sent us Painted Lady caterpillars which are native to many areas.
Each Painted Lady caterpillar was set up in its own little habit with plenty of food for its larva stage. If you bring in food from your yard, the caterpillars eat a variety of plants including thistle, mallow, and hollyhock.
Once the caterpillars moved into the pupa stage, we put the lids into the butterfly house, and threw away the containers. The caterpillars remain in the chrysalis for about 10 days. After their wings dried, we released the new Painted Lady Butterflies outside in our yard. Adults feed on the nectar from plants like thistle, aster, cosmos, blazing star, ironweed, and joe-pye weed.
We’ve also had some success raising Black Swallowtail caterpillars which we’ve found in our garden. Black Swallowtail caterpillars feed on plants like Queen Anne’s lace, parsley, dill, and Rue. Since we have a perpetual supply of dill in our garden, we always find the green and black striped caterpillars all over the plants.
If raising butterflies is not your thing, give the gift of ladybugs. Most kids are comfortable with handling the cute button-like insects, and will enjoy watching them eat their favorite prey, aphids. You’ll appreciate the reduction in destruction to your plant when your resident aphid population is no more!
Resources for Raising Butterflies
- Live Butterfly Garden
- live caterpillars
- From Caterpillar to Butterfly (Let’s-Read-and-Find-Out Science, Stage 1)
- National Geographic Readers: Caterpillar to Butterfly