Rearing butterflies can be a compelling educational experience for young biology students. Venders market kits with eggs and artificial diet that can be used to rear a variety of caterpillars including Painted Lady Butterflies. Occasionally, the artificial diet fails. I recently responded to a desperate teacher: “Help. I have starving caterpillars. What can I do now?”
Fortunately, common host plants for painted lady caterpillars, including thistle, mallow and hollyhock, can be found in the fields and gardens of Northern Indiana in late April. My advice: send the students on a collecting trip for food to feed the caterpillars. This will provide an additional lesson in botany and the finicky dietary preferences of caterpillars as well as an excuse to enjoy the warm spring weather.