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The Horrific (I Mean Magical) Experience of Growing Butterflies with a Toddler

I’m not a huge fan of bugs. There are things I fear more (fire, heights, bubonic plague), but they’re up there. My husband and I periodically return to the question of the actual size of the cockroach that clambered up over a pile of books on my desk, pointed its wavy little feelers at me and said, “Hello, lunch.” My husband always says it was about an inch, I always ask him how big (in inches) Godzilla was. But, motherhood is a funny thing because, a few weeks ago, I actually invited some bugs over to our house. You know, to play with my son.

Clicking around on Amazon one day for something much more reasonable than bugs, I discovered that it’s possible to send away for some caterpillars and have them grow into butterflies. That sounded great! My son, the budding scientist, would love it. We’d have a project to do together. And, in the end, we’d have beautiful butterflies to release into the world. I clicked “purchase” and went about my day.

It was only when they arrived on my doorstep a few days later that I realized what I’d done. The kit contained a mesh butterfly habitat, a plastic flower with a sponge inside, a pipette for feeding, an instruction booklet, and a cup of caterpillars. Five little, tiny black caterpillars, slithering around on top of some brown muck the booklet said was their food.

My son was hysterically excited about the concept of growing caterpillars into butterflies, but not so interested in the caterpillars themselves. I, on the other hand, couldn’t stop looking at them. They were so weird. With all their wavy little legs, and their undulating, exponentially growing bodies. And their creepy black snout things that always seemed to be sniffing the air, looking for something. Fresh meat? No. Calm down. What were they doing in my home??

The directions said to just leave them alone until they went into their chrysalises. So we did. I put the cup on the bookshelf, lifting my son up every now and then so he could look at the books and show no interest at all in the caterpillars. But I could feel their beady little eyes on me.

Then, one day, just like the directions said they would, they all climbed up to the top of the cup (as if responding to instructions from the dark caterpillar overlord of all), hung upside down, and went into their chrysalises. And there they hung. Like vampire bats. Still, and silent, and utterly terrifying.

Do you know what goes on inside a chrysalis? The caterpillars liquefy! They liquefy. They turn into caterpillar goop. And somehow, through some horrifying (I mean magical) process, they reconstitute themselves into butterflies. But, before that happened, I had to move them to the butterfly habitat.