Insect Lore Company History
Insect Lore was founded in California's San Joaquin Valley by Carlos White, an entomologist working with insects in the agricultural industry. While he worked there, he also learned how to raise insects and prepare artificial diets for them. In 1965, Carlos asked himself the question, "Why not let children experience the miraculous metamorphosis of butterflies up close?" He was inspired to develop an educational kit that would allow people of all ages to witness the metamorphosis of real, live butterflies in their own homes or classrooms. After some research, he concluded that the Painted Lady butterfly was the ideal candidate for the kit, because this species is found almost everywhere in the world and is not a pest. The butterfly kit seemed like a great idea - but the key to its success would be to create a special recipe designed especially for Painted Lady caterpillars. This would enable the larvae to eat and get enough nutrition to successfully transform into healthy adult Painted Lady butterflies. How difficult could that be?
As the next three long years of trial and error proved - very difficult indeed. Insect Lore actually began at the kitchen table, with Carlos and his wife Pat experimenting with myriad combinations of food supplements for Painted Lady caterpillars. Mr. White finally came up with a successful dietary formula for the butterfly larvae in 1969. It was then that The Live Butterfly Garden was born. It was a revolutionary concept - a customer could purchase an educational kit that included a butterfly habitat and a certificate. The customer would then mail the certificate to Insect Lore's "butterfly nursery" and in return would receive live Painted Lady larvae. The caterpillars would be shipped to the customer in a special jar that included Mr. White's unique caterpillar food. Over a span of approximately three weeks the Painted Lady larvae would eat the food, change into chrysalides, and finally emerge as adult butterflies in the Butterfly Garden hatching box. After a few days of observation, the customers would experience the joy and wonder of setting their very own Painted Lady butterflies free.
The special Painted Lady caterpillar diet made all this possible, and the Insect Lore "Butterflies-By-Mail" magic began. The first Live Butterfly Garden Kits were wildly colored (this was the 60's, after all) and the habitat was a box with round plastic windows. Groovy!
Today, the Live Butterfly Garden includes a see-through, reusable, pop-up mesh habitat. But 50 million Caterpillars-by-Mail later, Carlos White's original Painted Lady caterpillar diet remains the same. While Carlos has now retired, his son John operates Insect Lore USA in an enlarged facility in Shafter, California, complete with a Bugseum and visitor center. Carlos' daughter Jennifer is head of Insect Lore Europe, located in picturesque Cornwall, England. Painted Lady caterpillars travel from Cornwall to destinations throughout the United Kingdom and the European Union.
Insect Lore has expanded the insect lineup over the years as well. In addition to Painted Lady butterflies, Insect Lore offers Ant, Ladybug, Silkworm, Worm and Frog Kits, as well as bug catchers, keepers, viewers, and other exciting items for bug lovers.
Insect Lore and NASA
The July 23, 1999 launch of NASA’s Columbia Space Shuttle carried some unusual astronauts - Insect Lore Painted Lady Butterflies! Insect Lore partnered with a group working with NASA to put the winged creatures into orbit. Scientists wanted to determine if the caterpillars would undergo metamorphosis in a zero-gravity environment. Would an adult Painted Lady butterfly form properly within its chrysalis without the aid of gravity to "pull" its parts into place?
Spacehab, the team NASA used to conduct living experiments on the space shuttle missions, approached John White at the National Science Teacher’s Convention. “When we were asked to be part of a shuttle launch and send the first butterflies into space,” John grinned, “we immediately said yes!”
The experiment began. A set of Painted Lady chrysalides were housed in a specially-designed habitat developed at the University of Colorado. Video feeds of the progress of the butterflies’ development were available via the Internet from spacehab.com, a website dedicated to the flight. A curriculum was developed with a high school near Atlanta and the students monitored the mission from their classroom.
The result? All of Insect Lore's Painted Lady butterflies successfully emerged aboard the Columbia - in fact, they hatched perfectly in orbit! The astronauts also got a kick out of watching them fly upside down in zero gravity. The butterflies and their habitat have been preserved and were placed on permanent display in Washington D.C. at the National Air and Space Museum on May 3, 2000.