Insect Lore Butterfly Garden
We certainly will never look at butterflies in the same light again after owning this butterfly habitat and following the life cycle; it's been an amazing experience - though actually quite traumatic in parts; this is more than just a toy and it needs to be used responsibly. The kids have loved it, although only 3 of our 5 butterflies ... were perfect, so this in itself was quite a learning experience.
In the Box:
When you get the garden, currently £11.49 on Amazon, you have to send off for the caterpillars - this costs an extra £3, which I hadn't realised prior to ownership. It was easy enough to order and pay for the caterpillars, we did it online but you can also do so by post. You can specify when you want your self-contained pot of caterpillars and food to arrive, mainly you have to ensure you are able to take care of it for up to 5 weeks, in warmer weather it will take less time for the butterflies to develop. Our caterpillars arrived in a couple of days and took under 3 weeks in warmer weather to develop. They seemed happy enough to gorge themselves on the brown paste in the tub, although one failed to grow. The rest formed chrysalises and we transferred them to the garden itself after about 2 weeks. There was enough food in the tub to satisfy what were very hungry caterpillars, although I had to wonder if they weren't a bit cramped. In any case the pot was great for observing the caterpillars, which grew at an amazing rate, though the top was a little tricky to remove to transfer the chrysalises to the "garden" itself. In the box you get instructions, the garden, a pipette we never used, and details of how to send off for your live caterpillars.
From Chrysalis to Butterfly:
The garden is a pop up affair, a bit like one of those fabric storage tubs you can buy, with netting sides and a zip at the top. It's not actually that big - 30cm high and 25cm in diameter, but fairly good quality, with a brightly printed base it's appealing to children. Unfortunately once inside two of our chrysalises dropped off - we don't know why, maybe the extreme heat was to blame as they developed during a heatwave. This meant one of the butterflies was not able to develop perfect wings, and it was quite distressing realising this. The remaining ones (ie the 3 that had grown normally) did well and watching them emerge was just amazing, although I was glad that I had been warned by a friend that it can be a little messy, they extrude a fair bit of meconium, which it is quite good to be forewarned about.
I did think the habitat was a bit small for purpose, and could have done with a lid that was easier to unzip. We didn't have the heart to keep our butterflies the "couple of days" the company specify as they seemed quite cramped, though happy to feed on the sugar and water and fruit we provided them for the duration of their stay. Releasing them was very satisfying, and the kids loved it. We spotted "our" butterflies in the garden for a couple of days after we had let them go, and as an educational experience I felt that having had the butterfly garden meant that the children now have an appreciation of the butterflies they didn't have before, we have researched the Painted Lady butterfly, which is the type we reared, and it was certainly something they will never forget.
I would do this again, though the replacement kit is quite pricey, - at over £9 currently, the instructions were good, it was very educational but I did wonder as to the success rate and life quality of the butterflies; if less then 3 survive there is a guarantee certificate for replacements, but losing any is actually harder than I had thought. In the words of my enthralled 9 year old "at least we know about the life cycle now mummy, and how special it is" whilst the 7 year pronounced it "4 stars mummy, because it's amazing but a bit, you know, icky" - I couldn't put it better myself.
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Insect Lore Butterfly Garden
When I was a child it seemed like caterpillars were everywhere. You'd see on the footpath devouring my grandparents vegetable path etc... The though of paying for caterpillars would have seemed mad, and that is larger part of what you are paying for when you buy this kit. Personally, I would have preferred to scoop up a local ... caterpillar, keep it fat and well fed until big enough to release and then turn it loose. But after searching for 6 years we have only seen a wild caterpillar once- years ago while waiting for a train. We left him alone as it was far from home and I wouldn't want to have travelled back to release it - and some species do need specific environments. Out of curiosity. I offered the local boys a fiver per caterpillar ( only going up to two) near the river path, where years ago there were many. We did get one caterpillar once from a neighbour, who rescued it from her cat, but they are very hard to come by now. The kids searched for weeks with no luck. he caterpillars seem to have vanished. If I wanted my sons to enjoy the experience of seeing a caterpillar transform into a butterfly - I would have to pay for it.
Insect Lore's Butterfly Garden currently sells for £11. 49. I was lucky and picked one up before Christmas for roughly £5 from Amazon Warehouse Deals. However, you should be aware that there is an additional charge of £2.99 for postage and handling to get your 5 "free" Painted Lady* caterpillars. Personally, I feel they should just add £3 to the purchase price of the kit, so it could be all paid for once.
What's in the box?
The main thing in the box is a pop up net butterfly cage. Of course they don't call them cages anymore - it sounds a bit cruel, so it is called a habitat. I highly doubt the butterfly cares what you call it. It is in fact a cage, and not really the nicest place to live as they don't have room to fly, but we release ours right after they hatch. the net cage is 12.5" tall and 10" across. You also get a wee plastic "feeding pipette" which is useless as there is no way they are going to eat from this, and instruction sheet and some activity suggestions. Finally you get a coupon with a code to order five caterpillars for £2.99 as opposed to the usual price of £9.95. I bought this kit because I thought the net cage would be nice to have, and the price of the kit plus the price of shipping for caterpillars was less than buying the caterpillars alone.
I bought this in the winter, knowing I would not be able to use the kit at this time. I just put it away and waited for better weather. When I finally went to order there was a problem. Instead of an 0800 number to call, it was a 1800 number at the internet would not accept my code for the discount. It was only when I looked at the address to redeem the coupon through the post I realised the problem. The address was in the USA. I emailed the UK office who were very, very helpful. The USA kits are not meant to be sold in the country, but they keep popping up. I bought directly from Amazon, but it was a customer return - hence the great price. It seems many Amazon Marketplace sellers have been selling the American kits. I can only speculate that someone got the American one from the Marketplace, realised it was for the USA and ordered another from Amazon swapping certificates. The box had been opened. But Insect Lore assured me first and foremost that they would honour the certificate. They definitely put customer service ahead of a profit here. They only wanted to know details of where it came from to try and stop further US kits from being sold here.
They gave me the option of sending in a check ( I don't even have a check book anymore) or paying via debit or credit card on the phone, which I did. Apparently the problem of American kits being sold n the UK has not been completely resolved, but details on redeeming the certificates are posted on the Amazon site now.
Once we got the issue of the certificate sorted we received the caterpillars 2 days after ordering. They came in a little plastic jar with a layer of green goop which is meant to be their food. They are meant to remain in the jar until they form cocoons. There is a small bit of paper at the top of the jar which you are meant to remove once they have all formed cocoon and place in the net. According to the instructions you can keep the butterflies in the net once they have emerged from their cocoons and feed them with new bit of sponge soaked in sugar water or cut open fruit, we have done this with wild butterflies caught for a quick photo before releasing, but we were never able to observe these feeding, making a quick release very necessary.
You can probably guess by my over us of the term "meant to" this isn't quite how we did it. I bought a good sized Hollyhock plant and placed it in the net. I thought the caterpillars would munch a few leaves and I would plant it afterwards. I bought another plant to place in the garden right away. I then put the jar with the lid off in the net. Three caterpillars crawled out and devoured the plant. They ate and ate and ate.
Two stayed in the jar eating the goop. One of these died right away and I was convinced the second was dead as well as wrapped some web around itself and lay at the bottom of the cup for over a week, while the other caterpillars had finished the final molt and gone right back to munching. The only reason I didn't bin it was by the time I was completely convinced it was dead, the first of the larger caterpillars was already in a cocoon and it would be difficult to remove the cup without disturbing the cocoon on the roof of the cage. However a few days after the last of the caterpillars had moved into the cocoons our late bloomer emerges from his sleep and happily devoured the leaves I placed in from the Hollyhock which was now growing in the garden. Not only did the late bloomer sleep during his molting periods longer - he also stayed in his cocoon far longer, sand again I was fairly well convinced he was dead when he finally climbed out today. We took him out to the garden and placed on the thistle, next to the hollyhock, with a bit of cut strawberry for juice, and he is still there. He seems to be a lazy sort. Of course I'm assuming it is a he. I don't know how to tell the difference in sexes but being that hard to get from his bed - it just must be. Because of our experience with the late bloomer I would have to advise not to throw apparent casualties in the bin. I would suggest leaving them near a suitable plant just in case if you really don't want to wait anymore. The thought of the poor thing emerging from a cocoon sealed up in a rubbish bag sounds horrid.
I have to say I was shocked at how much these creatures eat. The food supplied with them was meant to be enough, but they ate and ate and ate. My sons loved this, calling them the very hungry caterpillars. They also pooped and pooped and pooped. I couldn't believe how much caterpillar poo accumulated at the bottom of the net and cleaning it out was some job. I would also note that a red dye like stuff comes out of the cocoon when the butterfly emerges. This looks like blood, but it is really more poo and pee which accumulates as the creature transforms. I also have to warn if you decide to let the caterpillars have the run of the net cage, be certain the zipper is closed as tightly as possible. One escaped on us the first day, but thankfully we caught climbing down the net on his way to freedom.
It took two weeks for our caterpillars to enter the cocoons, and even longer for the lazy one. The food had dried up into a solid brick by then which looked completely inedible. If you do intend to use only the food that comes with them, I think you will have to follow the instructions and keep the jar closed the whole time. Of course with the amount of poo they make, the poor things will be nearly buried in it and have to tunnel through poo to reach any food. With a small container, a two supply of poo and dried up food, and any casualties dead bodies laying about as well - it doesn't sound a very healthy living environment. I would much prefer to feed them on a natural food source, but please be aware - they eat a lot. If I did this again I would plant suitable food plants well in advance of buying the caterpillars. In fact the main thing keeping me from buying more right away is waiting for the plants to grow. I did throw a lettuce leaf in to see if they would eat it, but the would not. You will need a good supply of suitable plants.
My children really did enjoy the experience, and I do feel it was educational as well. I have washed the net out and almost certainly will buy more caterpillars at some point, but I will most likely try other native varieties from ebay. Ebay also offers several foreign species but I feel it very dangerous to release any non native species - and we do like to set them free afterwards. If I wanted to keep the butterflies in captivity I would insist on a cage large enough to allow flight. However, I would not hesitate to use Insect Lore again if we needed more Painted Ladies.
In addition to enjoying watching how caterpillars change, I think this set made my sons a lot more aware of caterpillars and butterflies in general. We have planted the surviving Hollyhock in the garden to attract butterflies as well a thistle and mint plants. We have tried planting cabbage, which can attract other types of butterflies, but the slugs keep getting it. We will however maintain a small garden of butterfly friendly plants, hoping to provide just a little bit of extra habitat.
* Painted Ladies are a regular visitor to Britain, stopping over as part of their migration. They can not survive the British winter though. The adults feed on nectar from flowers, but they can drink juice from cut or smashed fruit as well. The caterpillars eat nettle, mint, hollyhock and thistle. They have a wingspan of 5 -9 centimetres and are predominantly orange with black wing tips, trim and markings and white spots on the black wing tips. The underside of the wings is a brownish colour.
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Insect Lore Butterfly Garden
My Daughter was 18 months old when I bought this kit as she was so fascinated with butterflies at that time. I saw it advertised on television and bought it when you got 10 caterpillars for the price of 5! I was so excited when it arrived and then realised after opening the kit that you then need to either send off the certificate for ... your caterpillars or redeem online by using a code.
The Live Butterfly Garden Includes:
* Pop-up, reusable 30cm tall mesh habitat perfect for butterfly viewing!
* Feeding Pipette
* Complete Instructions
* A cup of 5 live caterpillars (we were lucky to receive 10 caterpillars)
After paying a nominal postal fee for the caterpillars (£2.99 I think), the caterpillars arrived within one week - although they do state that you can wait 1-2 weeks as they are being posted from Europe.
One of the most important things to bear in mind is the timings for ordering your caterpillars - it takes approximately 3 weeks for them to complete their life cycle and the caterpillars can be ordered between late February and late September.
The caterpillars arrived in a small cardboard box (I was a bit worried about the state they may be in due to travelling in this packaging) - however, I needn't have worried as all 10 caterpillars (5 in each container) were absolutely fine. The containers have air holes in the lid, which has a picture of the Painted Lady butterflies that they are to turn into. The sides of the containers are clear so you can see inside and there is a cardboard outer layer that can be removed. We never removed this as you could see clearly through the two sides that were left uncovered.
The first thing my Daughter wanted to do was to open the lid of the containers, which of course, I explained that the caterpillars had to live in this home until they had built a new home. She was absolutely fascinated with the changes observed over the next 2-3 weeks. This is our diary:
Day One: Received the caterpillars (29/6/11)
Day 7 Caterpillars had grown dramatically in size (5/7/11)
Day 9 All caterpillars had formed into chrysalides (8/7/11). We then transferred to them to the netting provided by opening the containers and pinning the card they were stuck to onto the sides of the netting.
Day 17 Butterflies started to emerge and we witnessed one emerging! (15/7/11) At this point we put in some banana, oranges and sugar water (by using the pipette provided)
Day 18 The last two butterflies emerged (16/7/11)
Day 20 The day that all 10 butterflies were we set free on (18/7/11)
Day 20 was a very exciting day and when the butterflies were set free, they stayed in the garden for around an hour. We were lucky that they actually flew onto us and I took some amazing pictures of them.
As a Reception Teacher, I have just ordered this kit for my class and we received 5 caterpillars last week. It is great that they are as excited about observing the changes as my Daughter was and I cannot wait for them to be able to witness the life cycle of a butterfly first hand and set them free!
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Insects Other Pets
Brand: Insect Lore / Other Pets / Animals Equipment Type: Insect - This product allows you to build and maintain your very own butterfly garden.
Manufacturer: National Trust / Other Pets / Insects
Brand: Lee's / Other Pets / Animals Equipment Type: Insects - Available in three sizes / container designed for carrying and keeping crickets / makes it easy to feed reptiles / amphibians / birds
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