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Excellent educational gift, but beware additional charge
on 3 July 2013
This is a fantastic set for children, and the company produces many others as well (stick insects etc). In the box, you get:
-pop-up butterfly habitat (essentially a nicely decorated net cylinder that is light enough to hang pretty much anywhere, but also free-standing)
-instructions (very detailed but clear and simple, and my children (10 and 5) read them with ease)
-voucher code to order 5 caterpillars from the company
You do not get any caterpillars, and there is a P&P charge (currently £2.99) to be paid when you order the beasties, which come with their food. You can also only order them between March and September, so this would be a consideration if planning a Christmas gift for example. They are sent by first class post, on limited days.
You can order future caterpillars and food direct from Insect Lore online, who also produce larger sets aimed at schools. Their website is easy to navigate and the ordering process is very straightforward.
We have ordered our caterpillars, which were due to be posted out yesterday, and await them impatiently. I'll update this review once they are with us...
04.07.13 Day 1
Caterpillars arrived today, in a small transparent plastic tub (the size of a small tumbler), with 1cm or so of wax-like beige gunge in the bottom which they were eating happily. They are tiny - each under 1cm long, and 1mm wide - black and hairy. 4 are very active. One is dead (3 are guaranteed to make it to butterfly-hood; they come with a guarantee through which you can claim another pot of 5 if not). They arrived with another superb (but more concise) instruction sheet. Nothing to do now except watch and wait - you don't even need to open the tub, as they apparently grow and moult and grow some more in their tumbler without any other input required until they make their chrysalides. Exciting stuff...
06.07.13 Day 3
I was wrong. It wasn't dead, but caterpillar number 5 is smaller, paler and less active than the rest, and showed no sign of life until today. The others have grown already, and are happily chomping their way through the sludgey food.
08.07.13 Day 5
They are amazing. And enormous. The largest beast is now a whopping 2.5cm long and 4mm fat. The runt is still smaller than the rest at 1.5cm long. They have filled the bottom of their cup with messy webs that they cling on to when the children gently lift the cup to peer in at them.
10.07.13 Day 7
Now the biggest is 3.5cm long, 5mm thick (Runt still only 2cm long). They are very active and very hairy. Their food looks as if lots of teeny bombs have been dropped on it, with big craters and scattered debris. The rate of growth of these creatures is amazing (the children are intrigued but not as impressed as me). Perhaps the current heatwave is contributing. Surely it can't be long now until they pupate? I'm loving this...
11.07.13 Day 8
Up to 4.5cm long, and even Runt is over 3cm. They have eaten through to the bottom of their food (completely clear patches on the bottom of the cup) and are rather short of space now with 5 monsters in a container that would have comfortably held 100 with room to spare when they arrived only a week ago.
13.07.13 Day 9
We had one chrysalis this morning, and another 2 caterpillars hanging by their tail ends from the ceiling in J-shapes starting to exude gunge (it slowly covers them and sort of blunts all their spiky bits before hardening). By the evening they had formed their chrysalides, but the remaining 2 caterpillars had knocked chrysalis 1 off the paper ceiling. Not sure what to do about this; no advice in the instructions.
14.07.13 Day 10
All 3 chrysalides are on the bottom, and the last 2 caterpillars are hanging Js.
15.07.13 Day 11
5 chrysalides. They are all a pale beigey grey with markings, and look nothing like the black spiky caterpillars.
16.07.13 Day 12
Transferred chrysalides to the pop-up habitat. 2 remained attached to their paper circle, which now looks really moth-eaten and fragile, but held together while I pinned it to the mesh. I put the loose 3 on a paper napkin on the base of the habitat and the whole thing on a tray. They wriggle their tail ends madly when handled, even very very gently, and I ended up dropping them clumsily. Children sure Mummy has murdered their butterflies. Hope not.
19.07.13 Day 15
One hatchling appeared without warning overnight. This was one of the 3 fallen chrysalides; relieved not to have killed them during transfer! We hadn't noticed the chrysalis darken as the instructions suggest. It has made a huge mess; looks like watery blood, and has soaked into the fabric base of the habitat; very glad we had put it on a tray. We made up the 'nectar'; the instructions call for a crazily vast quantity of the stuff; really you only need about a tenth. Butterfly 1 very keen on it though. He is stunning, examined closely.
20.07.13 Day 16
Another hatchling. We spotted this one earlier, while its wings were still crumpled, and watched as it pumped them up. The butterflies seemed to have only 4 legs... until you realise that 2 very furry legs are held tucked up in a sort of old-lady-knitting position until they feed. 2 other chrysalides look a bit darker. We really want to see one hatch but so far both have been very early morning. Put out a plastic saucer of peach slices which both butterflies approve of.
21.07.13 Day 17
Another 2 butterflies hatched between 3am and 6am (rather sad that we know this I suppose). We missed the hatching again, but met them over breakfast as they sampled their orange segments. The habitat netting has quite a few holes filled in ith dried red meconium; the effect is rather pretty in a macabre sort of way. We added a tiny narrow-necked vase of buddleia which they immediately all flew to to drink the 'nectar' we sprinkled on it.
22.07.13 Day 18
Finally the Runt (we assume since he was always the smallest and last to do each bit) has hatched. We missed him too! Pah! All 5 butterflies hatched successfully though, and are all active and entertaining.
23.07.13 Day 19
A lovely hot summer day, so today we released our butterflies, one of whom (Runt, I swear) was unwilling to abandon its peach bits and stayed for 20 minutes even after we removed the food saucer (on which it was firmly perching) from the habitat. All the others fluttered out of the open habitat lid one by one and danced around the garden before disappearing off into the blue.
In the following few days I handwashed the habitat which was fairly messy and stained with meconium. It came up beautifully, dried quickly, and now awaits its next inhabitants. The whole thing has been superb; more for me than the children, I suspect, since they take everything new in their stride. Seriously cool though, to observe these creatures so closely, exploring, and feeding, and flying. We'll definitely be doing his again. And maybe some stick insects...