My First Pet: Caterpillar - Butterfly House (Up-Cycle 2 Fruit Punnets)

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About: I'm a Product Design Engineer, currently living in the UK. I have been fortunate to have lived, studied and worked in Hong Kong, Norway and California. I believe physical models help people to communicate,...

My First Pet - A Very Hungry Caterpillar!

I have a 3 year old, who's not old enough for a 'serious' pet, so I thought Butterflies would be a great start! He's also grown up with the awesome book by Eric Carle. So it was a nice way to get him started with pets, at almost no cost to make the home.

This Instructables helps you find caterpillars, build an up-cycled home from fruit boxes, for them to metamorphosize into butterflies/moths. I think the caterpillars make great pets, as they 'eat their greens' (which as any parent will know is a virtue kids are working on!).

From what I can tell, caterpillars also seem pretty tolerant of being picked up (carefully) and inspected by kids. It's worth suggesting you avoid the crazy-coloured and hairy ones, as these may be irritant to skin. Consult a guide if unsure.

But I think as a first pet, caterpillars are fun to watch, (some move really fast, and the wavy motion is hilarious to kids/big-kids). The task of caring and cleaning out the old leaves and 'frass' (poop), is a good thing to test before you get a more temperamental pet like a Rabbit, etc.

NB - Please forgive the slight 'artistic license' to photoshop in some butterflies, but the point is - they actually metamorphosized in about 8 days and lived happily ever after (much to the amazement of my wife).

Supplies:

To Catch a Caterpillar: I suggest a jam-jar or container with some holes in the lid for ventilation.

Where to find them - some suggestions: http://www.raisingbutterflies.org/finding-immature... (but essentially, it's about looking under leaves, and just foraging in woods and parks).

  • 2x Fruit Punnet.
  • Sticky Tape & Masking Tape if you have it.
  • Scissors/Craft Knife.
  • Mesh (e.g LINK)* It can be very cheap, and only needs to be fine enough to keep a butterfly in, so nothing too robust!
  • Bulldog Clips**.

*If you don't have Mesh, you could consider the following:
  • Using a a section of material from tights, chiffon, lace, etc.
  • Using a tea-strainer / sieve, or such like - by cutting a hole and temporarily sticking it in place.
  • Finally, you can just spend a long time stabbing it with holes to give the same effect.

**If you don't have clips, you can of course just use sticky-tape, and remove it when needing to change leaves, etc.

Step 1: Where to Find Caterpillars

I thought I should include some 'clues' of where to find caterpillars....essentially any places where leaves have been chomped, and folded over in a roll like shown. Happy hunting!

Step 2: Prepare Your Punnet!

It's worth finding a punnet (fruit box) that has no holes in the bottom, but if it does, (because you're not filling it with water!) - you can simply cover up the holes with sticky tape. However - take care to apply to both sides, or you might find your bugs stuck to it!

Step 3: Cut Out Ventillation

Mark out a smaller window than the Mesh, and cut out with scissors. If you are feeling pro - round the edges as you go, to save the plastic splitting.

Step 4: Make Safer Mesh

The Mesh is hardly 'high risk', but if you are feeling cautious with your kids little fingers, wrap some masking tap over the spiky edged of the mesh (or if you're feeling skilled, folder them over and press down).

I did this in Blue as much to show how to do it on Instructables, but any tape will do.

Step 5: Fix in Place

Use sticky-tape to fix in place. This will work better with the the masking tape, as it gives it a better bond between the two different materials.

You have finished the TOP of the Butterfly House!

Step 6: Make a Sticky-Tape Hinge

I like that this project could be so much more complex, but instead, the robustness of the hinge is proportional to the lifetime of the project, so it seems responsible in terms of care for our resources. Yay!

Preaching over...

Apply to the inside and then outside of the two edged of the boxes. Reposition if too tight/loose. Job done.

Step 7: Attached Clips

The Bulldog Clips seem the simplest way to 'lock' the House, and can of course be removed.

Tape will work if you don't have it, but the great thing about plastic fruit punnets is that they are pretty even on the edges, so create a good seal with little skill required.

Step 8: Dinner Time!!

As suggested earlier, I took a jam jar with holes in a lid to transport the caterpillars.

An advantage of this was that I took some of the soil from the forrest floor / leaf litter. This contained moisture, shade, and probably some predators ... there was a centipede that grew really big, and might have eaten a less robust caterpillar - such is the circle of life :(

It was great fun watching the caterpillars much away at the leaves, and they can go through that amount shown in 30mins or so. Certainly kept my son and his friends curious for a while!

Keep adding a tiny bit of water and fresh leaves every other day.

Step 9: Chrysalis!

It's not always easy to see, as our caterpillars buried down into the soil to pupate (go from caterpillar to chrysalis). They occasionally wiggle if (gently) disturbed. I kept changing the leaves for a couple days, but once I saw no more eating, I left them alone for week or so.

Step 10: Then... Late One Night!

True to the book - they come out at night. Two emerged on the same evening, to much excitement after a week's inactivity! (Hence the badly lit photos).

Granted these are hardly 'prized tiger moth specimens' - but as I'm sure you'll find, it's still super-exciting if it's the first time for your kids!

Step 11: My First Pets!

Ours are named 'Butterfly' and 'Butterfly' - oh well xD

They are technically moths, but I didn't want to split hairs, right!?

Bedtime was easily 30mins later with all the excitement!

We kept a discarded chrysalis in case you're intrigued...

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Hope you have fun doing the same, and do please share and cheap, fast and fun projects like this!

Thanks for voting - just imagine what we could do with those tools - wahahaha!

Step 12: Circle of Life

The moment came to set the Butterflies (*ahem* Moths) free!
It was a special moment, and one worth feeling sentimental about ;o)

(It almost eded in disaster as one Moth flew away - straight into a spider's web, so I felt it was not the time to get all David Attenborough about the grim realities of life, and gave it a second chance, where it flew happily to the potato plants).

One thing was worth mentioning is that I thought we'd only had two 'surviving' caterpillars of the 4, and I actually found two more chrysalises in the compost/leaf mulch....so we are waiting a full set.

Really awesome [short-term] pets. Will certainly do it again!

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    2 Discussions

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    Penolopy Bulnick

    20 days ago

    This is great! Being able to see the process a caterpillar goes through is so much fun :)

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    Hey JudePenolopy Bulnick

    Reply 19 days ago

    Yeah - it seemed a 'happy accident' that the fruit punnet served well on many levels. We could even see centipedes crawling through the leaf-litter! Excited to see when the next two winged insects emerge!

    We're even made another one for a friend =)