When butterflies emerge from the chrysalis, they are considered adult butterflies. Care and feeding of adult butterflies is important to successfully complete a butterfly life cycle experiment. Adult butterflies do not have jaws that allow them to chew plant material as they did when they were caterpillars. Instead, they have a long, straw-like tongue called a proboscis through which they can consume liquid material. Butterflies are an example of an insect that goes through complete metamorphosis.
The caterpillars diet normally consists of one type of plant, depending on the species. The most popular butterfly used in classroom studies is the Painted Lady, Vanessa cardui. They are available through many different sources and they are a cost effective option. In nature, the larva feed on the mallow plant. In classroom studies, a prepared diet is the best option. The caterpillars each constantly during this time period. The larval stage lasts approximately 4 weeks. The habitat should not be too large as this will make it difficult for the caterpillars to find the food source. If this happens, the larva could starve. One unusual characteristic of the caterpillar is that it has 8 pairs of legs to assist in climbing. After the last molt, only the front 3 pairs will remain.
After the 3-4 weeks spent as a caterpillar, the larva will attach itself upside down and form the crysalis. When the chrysalis has hardened, they should be transferred to a larger container, normally a net type habitat. The filter paper that the larva attaches to can be attached to the top of the net using a paper clip. In 7-10 days, the adult butterfly will emerge. A few hours will pass before the adult is ready to fly.
When your butterflies emerge from their chrysalis, you should place a shallow container of sugar water into the bottom of their habitat or butterfly net. They will consume this during the week to 10 days you have them in the habitat prior to release.
Though butterflies can adapt to a fairly wide range of temperatures, it is best to keep their habitat at room temperature and away from direct sunlight through windows. The time periods listed above can vary depending on the temperature, amount of food and the concentration of larva.