One of my kids’ favourite summer nature study activities is to raise their butterflies whilst they study the life cycle and learn about the different stages. It’s so easy to do and we’ve put together this quick guide for you on how to go about it. There are resources you can use, activities to do alongside, and more just carry on reading about How to Raise Butterflies with your kids.

Pinnable image on Raising Caterpillars with a butterfly opening wings on a childs hand

Learning about the Butterfly Life Cycle

One of the best ways to learn about the butterfly life cycle is to raise your own. There are kits you can purchase or you can collect your own if you are lucky to have some near by. With them growing and changing on your sideboard it’s the perfect time to study the amazing metamorphosis.

Butterfly Kits

We have included affiliate links to some of the products and resources as an associate we may earn from qualifying purchases.

Butterfly kits are a great way to start of your nature study into the life cycle of the butterfly they are fairly inexpensive and provide you with everything that you need to grow, nurture and then release the butterflies into the wild.

Probably the most well-known company for providing live caterpillars and kits is Insect Lore. Once you have the kit for the first time, you are then able to buy caterpillars to raise in subsequent years.

You can purchase from Amazon (links below on the images and list) or you can go direct to Insect Lore UK or Insect Lore US and purchase from them.

There are other companies that now provide the kits including some more local to you so it is worth searching.

the inside of an Insect Lore butterfly kit with butterflies, oranges and visible pupae with butterfly ready to emerge

Once you have the kit you follow the instruction booklets and you can then easily observe the caterpillars grow, pupate and then emerge as beautiful butterflies.

Raising Butterflies without a Kit

Whether you have bought a kit in the past or you are eager to grow your own butterflies from caterpillars without a kit it’s really easy as well. Growing up it was something that my parents did with us as a child as at the time there weren’t kits available instead we “created our own” and set up the observation net on our nature table.

Equipment Needed to Raise your Own Butterflies

  • A net cage – this is the one that we have. The clear front makes it really easy to view the development and the easy access for replacing plants with the zip.
  • Jar
  • Water
  • Plants that your found caterpilllars consume
  • Sticks and twigs
  • Paper Towel
  • Spray water bottle

Collecting Caterpillars from the Wild

Different species of moths and caterpillars can be found on different plants but common plants that you will find caterpillars on are listed below so start your caterpillar hunt there.

Raising butterflies at home

When collecting caterpillars you need to be aware that many species have spines and hairs that are irritating to the skin and some release chemicals so wear gloves when touching to avoid skin problems.

Carefully collect a few and then clip some plants that you found them on and take away.

UK

Host PlantButterfly or Moth
Cabbages and other Brassicas
Ragwort
Stinging Nettles
Bramble, Hawthorn & Black Thorn
Cabbage White Butterfly
Cinnabar Moth
Peacock Butterfly, Small Tortoise Shell
Hawk Moth
Raising butterflies

USA

Host PlantButterfly Species
Milkweed
Spicebush
Paw-Paw
Parsley, Dill, Fennel
Walnut and Sweet Gum
Cherry 
Monarch Butterfly
Spicebush Swallowtail
Zebra Swallowtail
Black Swallowtail
Luna Moth
Cecropia Moth, Viceroy, Red-Spotted Purple

Setting up your Butterfly Life Cycle Observation Net

Once you have your caterpillar (or caterpillars if possible it’s a more likely to have success that way) it’s time to set up your observation net.

1. Start with some paper towel on the bottom of your net, the caterpillars will poo a lot so using paper towel makes it easy to remove.

Did you know? Caterpillar Poo is called FRASS!

2. Fill a jam jar with water and add in your plants.

3. Position in the centre of your net and then arrange some sticks so that they touch the plants as well as the base of the net.

4. Mist the enclosure and release your caterpillars.

Caring for your Caterpillars in Kits and your DIY Observation Net

To feed your caterpillars keep an eye on the food within the enclosure, remove and replace as necessary.

4 cabbage white butterfly caterpillars on a cabbage leaf

Caterpillars don’t need to be given water, they get the water from their leaves. However, they do like a slightly humid atmosphere so it’s a really good idea to mist the net once a day to keep the humidity levels up especially if you have air con or heating on.

As they grow and get older they will start to slow down, this is a good indication that they are starting pupate. It is essential at this time there is the correct conditions for them to do this on.

Most species will form a pupae hanging, however there are some moth species that you may have collected that could pupate under ground so it’s important to check the species and identify them that way.

Make sure that there are a few sticks reaching to the top and that they aren’t to numerous to take up all of the space.

Caring for the Chrysalis

Chrysalis, cocoon and pupae are all used for the same thing. The stage of the life cycle where the butterfly or moth is enclosed and metamorphising from a caterpillar to a butterfly.

This will be a hard cocoon and doesn’t need to be fed at all.

monarch butterfly pupae attached to a leaf in a butterfly kit

However, like the caterpillars it does need to have some humidity so continue with the misting.

As it develops you may notice changes – it may darken or lighten to suggest that the butterfly or moth is going to emerge.

Butterflies and Moth Care

Although it is possible to look after your butterfly or moth for a while as a family we think the best thing is releasing them back to the wild so make a joyful occasion of releasing them out.

hand of a girl with a peacock butterfly resting on it with a blurred green background behind

Butterflies want to fly and a small enclosure like you have housed and growing the caterpillars in will not provide the space for them to fly. This also helps to continue the population in your area as well many of the butterfly and moth species are important pollinators.

Resources for Learning About Butterflies

Along with raising your butterflies why not check out some of these resources we recommend below.

preview pages of the butterfly activity pack for spring and summer tot school fun from rainy day mum
preview of a butterfly life cycle activity printable pack for early elementary including a display poster and activities

Are you raising your butterflies with your toddler or preschooler then our Butterfly Activity Pack is ideal with a maze, game and cut and stick activity you and your preschooler can have fun whilst you watch the butterflies.

With slightly older children those that are learning to write, count and learn more then our Butterfly Activity Printable Pack is ideal. We have this aimed at Reception/Year 1 or Kinder/1st Grade in the USA. But could be used with support for older preschoolers.

Toddler and Preschool Butterfly Books

Although you will find many suggestion for butterfly books for toddlers and preschoolers in our list (click the link), we have hand picked 3 that we love the best. These we add to our nature table beside the butterfly garden kit and can be picked up and read whenever our children feel like it.

Butterfly Books for School Kids

These books are aimed at older kids there is a mix and although your 8 or 9 year old may look down on the simple life cycle book it documents the life cycle perfectly for them. The other 2 books are interesting for their conservation and natural history perspectives.

Games and Hands-on Learning

Butterfly and Caterpillar Activities

Why not spend some time doing these fun activities, arts and crafts as well.

Create this cardboard tube craft that transforms from a caterpillar to a butterfly an ideal project to make with The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar Play Dough Play - part of the Story Book Summer on Rainy Day Mum

Why not create a transforming butterfly craft – this cardboard tube craft starts as a caterpillar and unfurls to create a butterfly.

Make a beautiful butterfly picture using a “stained glass” effect it’s ideal to hang near to your butterfly garden.

If you have a fan of The Very Hungry Caterpillar then why not get imaginative with playdough with our Very Hungry Caterpillar Invitation to Play.

Pinterest collage for raising butterflies and learning about the butterfly life cycle. Activities, crafts and more to do alongside raising your own caterpillars
Author
Cerys Parker

Cerys is a marine biologist, environmental educator, high school teacher and mum. Realising that life doesn't have to be put on hold and you don't just have to survive whilst the kids are young she shares ideas to inspire you to LIVE with the kids, with activities to do together, recipes to cook and enjoy and family travel to make memories to last a lifetime.

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