Most helpful positive review
562 of 565 people found the following review helpful
Wonderful--Raise generations of butterflies!
on February 26, 2005
My son (age 5) got this from his grandparents for Christmas and it has been terrific fun for all of us. The first set of ten caterpillars grew visibly day-by-day, then pupated and emerged as butterflies in a few weeks. There is a lot of great information about painted lady and other butterfly species online and having this project got my son very interested in how a caterpillar turns into a butterfly so soon I found myself showing him multi-colored pictures of imaginal discs (the larval structures that produce the butterfly wing, leg etc. during metamorphosis) online at websites I found--a great way to get him interested in developmental biology. The first time we talked about this he decided they were actually "magical discs", given what these groups of cells can do...the whole process has been very entertaining for the whole family.... It is also really fun to have butterflies flitting around and caterpillars growing in the pavilion in the kitchen when it is gray and wintery outside.
How to raise more than one generation of critters inside:
Since we sent our coupon for larvae out immediately after Christmas, we had butterflies dancing around the pavilion and mating in February when there were no plants outside to collect for the next generation of caterpillars to eat. Anticipating this, I ordered a mallow plant and some additional larval food from Carolina Biological Supply Company at about the time when our caterpillars turned into chrysalises: there is an online store and the stuff to get is the L918 culture medium (144040). This will feed about 80 larvae. (Unfortunately the Insect Lore company, which makes the Pavilion, only sells caterpillar food in small quantities along with additional larvae, which we certainly didn't need).
How to do it: We set the mallow plant in the pavilion and the butterflies laid their eggs on the leaves where we could watch them darken and emerge as very tiny 1mm long new caterpillars. After 4-5 days of watching the caterpillars eat the mallow plant (making little tracks on the leaves) we prepared them new homes in caterpillar media. To do this, you can use either the original plastic containers that the first generation larvae are shipped in (clean them out and dish wash them) or use another small clear-sided plastic or glass jar with a lid. Clean the containers well (I wiped the inside with a paper towel with isopropyl alcohol on it after dishwashing to kill bacteria, which will contaminate the food and make the larvae sick). The food will come in two plastic containers (nearly full). One of these can be frozen for subsequent generations. Transfer the contents of one container to a covered microwaveable container and heat on medium in the microwave (swirling every 10-30 seconds to mix and avoid overheating) until it is a solution. Pour media into the bottoms of the larvae containers to a depth of about a quarter inch (this will make 4-5 new containers). If there is a lot of condensation on the sides after the media has hardened, you can wipe this away with a paper towel--I did this, but then again alcohol-wiped the inside solid surfaces and lid above the media. Cover the containers loosely (leave the lid slightly ajar) and put them somewhere to dry. I laid a clean paper towel over the collection of covered jars to keep dust/dirt from drifting in given the activity level of the children here. After a couple days of drying, these were ready for larvae. If necessary (ie., if not using the previously shipped containers) make very, very small air holes in the lid. Then use a toothpick or matchstick to collect each 2-4 mm long larva off of the mallow plant leaves and tap to drop them into the new container. Put a clean paper towel over the top of the container (under the lid) and re-cap the jar--now the paper will serve as a scaffold for new chrysalises to hang from and will allow air in while preventing the tiny caterpillars from escaping. Try to be relatively aseptic about this.
It appears that we're going to get about 20-30 new caterpillars from the first generation, which I should be able to accommodate with the larvae cups made above...hopefully by the time we've run out of this food and been through a couple more generations it will be summer and warm enough to release all of the butterflies we have outside. The pavilion is well made and sturdy enough that it should accommodate many other projects involving insects. All in all, we've been entirely pleased with this--a great gift that's had my son on the phone describing his butterflies' recent development to grandma and grandpa several times!
One more tip: the adult butterflies seem to become upended on the floor of the pavillion at times while they are flapping around and have trouble gaining traction to right themselves on the slick nylon surface. This shortened the lives of several of ours until I saw it happening and put some packing material (like easter straw) in there for them to stand on.