Butterflies are among the most fascinating creatures that mother nature has created over millions of years. Around 3,700 species of the quick-change artist flutter across meadows and forests, through gardens and parks day in and day out. But many of them are threatened and are on the Red List. According to the German Federation for the Environment and Nature Conservation (BUND), butterflies are primarily affected by climate change. In addition, there are hostile monocultures and environmental toxins that make life difficult for butterflies in Germany.

“How can you help the butterflies?” I asked myself and in the middle of the Corona lockdown came across an idea that was as simple as it was appealing. A butterfly garden for your home. “Experience how beautiful butterflies are created,” says the packaging. Because my family loved the idea as well, we ordered a set to try it out. In the following article you can read how we and our five pets (author’s note: apart from a delegation of stick insects, no one in our family has ever owned a pet) did for a while in the almost five weeks of the experiment.

When the package with the butterfly garden arrived, we were initially a bit disappointed. Because we found a cheerful green habitat in it, which reminds a little of a miniature clothes bin with mesh grating, some butterfly food and instructions. No sign of the butterfly caterpillars. A voucher code was included with which the little rascals should be ordered. A look at the product description would have spared us the supposed shock. Our supplier charged an additional 9.99 euros for the caterpillars including food and their shipping. So, with determination, we ordered the butterfly caterpillars, from which five specimens of the native painted lady were to develop within five weeks. Important: The caterpillars are only sent from March to September. A caterpillar refill set without a butterfly garden is available here.

And then it was finally time.

Curiously, we first eyed the small caterpillar cup made of transparent plastic, the bottom of which was covered with a light brown mass about a centimeter thick. Five tiny worms huddled more or less motionless on their food for the days and weeks to come. “Are they even able to breathe?” my son wanted to know right away. In fact, there are tiny, barely visible holes in the lid of the cup. After two or three days, our new roommates were hungry for the first time. From then on they nibbled diligently on their nutritional mix. And they munched on a solid cushion. The future painted lady butterflies quickly developed into thick caterpillars. As described in the instructions, after about ten days, all five congregated on the underside of the lid. This was the beginning of the most exciting part of this small natural wonder.

The caterpillars began to pupate. Finally, four of our five protégés dangled like rolled-up leaves from a silk thread we spun from the lid of the cup. The daring maneuver failed in one case. According to the instructions, the actual butterfly garden came into play. It has the shape of a cylinder and has a zipper at the top and two Velcro straps for hanging it up. What followed was a somewhat tricky mission that nature-loving children are best left to their parents. Because for the next step in their metamorphosis, the pupae have to move to the butterfly garden. This required a bit of finesse, because the lid with the fragile dolls, which were only fixed at one point, had to be removed from the cup and placed vertically on a small cardboard box. In our case, we laid the unlucky person on a soft layer of kitchen paper. Patience was required again, because it took a few more days for the pupae to convert and transform into moths. Experts speak of the pupal rest.

During this time, great things happened. Unfortunately, you saw very little of the fabulous natural spectacle. The pupae became darker by the day, almost black. And with a bit of imagination, even our four-year-old son could see that feelers and wings were gradually taking shape. Now it was only a matter of time before the first Painted Lady could free itself from the cocoon. And here, too, nature played a small trick on us. Because none of the five butterflies did us the favor of hatching in daylight. And so every morning we counted how many Painted Lady butterflies were fluttering around in the butterfly garden, which was still not very comfortable. One. Two. Three. Four. We only looked in vain for number five between the lilac blossoms, which we had given the butterflies along with overripe fruit and water in the meantime. We later found the missing person in the water trough. He had probably slipped into the potions and hadn’t been able to free himself.

Less than four weeks after they moved in with us as tiny caterpillars, it was time to say goodbye. Proud as a little entomologist, our junior marched outside on a sunny Sunday in May, complete with a butterfly garden and four magnificent painted lady butterflies. With a mixture of melancholy and joy, we opened the zipper in our garden. And the quartet obviously felt comfortable in its small quarters. Only after a few minutes did one after the other flutter to freedom.

Breeding butterflies is far less complicated than it sounds. With the butterfly breeding set you get an all-round carefree package and you can concentrate completely on observing the animals during their metamorphosis. Whether in the living room or (if the temperature is right) on the balcony – the butterfly garden is an exciting adventure for young and old hobby biologists, which is also ideal as a surprise gift.

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