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. During his tenure there, he learned how to raise insects and prepare artificial diets for them. In 1965, Carlos asked himself the question, "Wouldn't it be wonderful if children could see 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 much 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 has a positive impact on the environment. 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 unique recipe would enable the caterpillars to receive more than enough nutrition to successfully transform into healthy Painted Lady butterflies. It took Carlos four long years of hard work to create the perfect caterpillar diet.
Like so many family businesses, Insect Lore began at the kitchen table. Carlos and his wife Pat experimented with myriad combinations of food supplements for Painted Lady caterpillars. Mr. White finally discovered a successful dietary formula for the caterpillars in 1969 and 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 baby Painted Lady caterpillars. 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 caterpillars would eat, 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 to begin the incredible life cycle all over again in the great outdoors.
Carlos' 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.
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, Insect Lore USA continues to operate from Shafter, California. Our sister company, Insect Lore Europe, is located in picturesque Cornwall, England. Painted Lady caterpillars travel from Cornwall to destinations throughout the United Kingdom and the European Union.
Insect Lore now specializes in many innovative educational products for young learners and our signature Live Butterfly Kits have brought science to life in countless homes and classrooms over the years. Our goal is to give children a friendly, hands-on introduction to insect metamorphosis, entomology and life-cycle learning. While our main focus still lies with our butterfly-related kits and educational material, we have expanded our product line to include ladybug, ant and praying mantis kits, as well as bug catchers, keepers, viewers and other exciting items for insect 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.