I ordered new butterflies for Gunnar's birthday this year. Well, actually I ordered caterpillars.
All five successfully grew, and made chrysalides, but only four hatched properly.
The boys were interested, but not quite as intrigued as last time. Still, they all gathered round to release them. They're Painted Ladies, (vanessa cardui), and are native all over the USA, so releasing them is fine.
When Gunnar opened the lid, two flew out on their own. Tate got one to climb onto his hand and lifted it out, and Gunnar gently picked up the last one (let it crawl onto his hand).
Here he is, holding it. But then we realized, it couldn't fly. One of its wings hadn't developed properly. We put that one back in the habitat and we'll continue to feed it until it dies. (Their lifespan is fairly short.)
Can you see the butterfly flying away?
If you're interested in doing this yourself...
We got our kit from InsectLore, though there are likely other sources. I bought ours from an educational supply store in town, but they can also be ordered online. I think the original kit was about $26 (?) and included the butterfly house and a coupon to send in for the caterpillars, which are shipped when the weather is warm enough for the caterpillars to survive the trip in the mail and the butterflies to survive release. Meaning, if I sent my coupon back in January, I probably wouldn't get caterpillars until April or May. Depends on your climate. We've done ours in the summer. Getting a new batch of caterpillars cost me $15 (for five).
You'll get a plastic container with five tiny caterpillars and a brown clay-like goo that is their food. They will crawl around and eat this for a week or more, and you can watch them grow rapidly and shed their skins. You don't need to do a thing for them but keep them warm enough (house temp) and out of direct sunlight.
Then they'll build their chrysalides. At the top of the plastic cup, the lid is lined with paper to which they attach their chrysalides, usually within a day of each other. At that point you need to carefully remove the paper from the lid and attach it in the butterfly house. We taped it to the "roof".
Again, you can watch the chrysalides change. They start out very dark and eventually become fairly transparent before they hatch, after another week-to-a-week-and-a-half. The whole process is about three weeks.
We feed ours with moist fruit (orange or peach slices) and a flower sprinkled with sugar water.
The boys like watching them unroll their proboscis (plural?) to eat.
Theoretically, you could keep them in the cage, provide the proper kind of leafy material (mallow plants) and repeat the life-cycle indefinitely, but we just let ours go.
InsectLore guarantees at least three live hatches or they will replace your caterpillars. Our first time we released all five. This time, one died at hatching and another apparently has one malformed wing and can't fly, but we released three and will feed 'him' until he dies, probably within a couple of weeks. Their lifespan is pretty short!
Hope that helps. It's a fun little project :D