A man opened a bag of broccoli to find 7 caterpillars inside, and kept them as pets until they transformed into butterflies

Sam DarlastonWhen Sam Darlaston found caterpillars on his supermarket broccoli, he kept them as pets and documented their transformation into butterflies.
  • British TV and radio presenter Sam Darlaston was just trying to make some dinner when he found seven caterpillars on his supermarket broccoli.
  • Darlaston decided to keep the critters as pets, naming them Broc, Olly, Croc, Janine, Carlos, Cedric, and Slim Eric.
  • He began sharing updates on Twitter, showing the caterpillars as they ate, explored, and even got tangled up in a love triangle.
  • Thousands of people followed Darlaston’s thread as he documented his caterpillars’ transformations into beautiful butterflies.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

It all started with a bag of broccoli.

Sam Darlaston was just hoping to whip up some dinner when he opened the bag and discovered a small green caterpillar, curled up right there on a floret.

Hours later, Darlaston found five more caterpillars in a second bag and his housemate discovered yet another – bringing their grand total to seven little critters.

But instead of chucking them in the trash, Darlaston decided to keep the caterpillars as pets. He gave them a Tupperware home and began sharing updates on Twitter, enrapturing thousands of people who watched along as they slowly transformed into beautiful butterflies.

Tesco caterpillarsSam DarlastonDarlaston with one of his butterflies, named Carlos.

Darlaston, who lives in London, had never seen caterpillars on broccoli before he opened the bag from UK supermarket chain Tesco on June 11.

“I buy broccoli all the time, it’s my absolute favourite vegetable,” the 27-year-old TV and radio presenter told Insider. “It’s something that I’ve bought a lot, and this was the first time I’ve ever personally seen one.”

Part of the broccoli felt squishy when Darlaston touched it, so he thought it may have spoiled. Then, he saw something move.

“My instant reaction was just, what am I gonna do about this?” Darlaston said.

While Darlaston usually just takes bugs outside when he spots them in the house, he was worried that this little caterpillar wouldn’t be able to survive the great outdoors on its own.

Tesco caterpillarsSam DarlastonDarlaston worried the caterpillars wouldn’t be able to survive the great outdoors on their own.

“I was like, ok, I should probably Google this,” he recalled. “And I found out that whatever you find a caterpillar on, that is the only food it will eat.”

Seeing as his front yard wasn’t exactly covered in broccoli plants, Darlaston decided to keep the little critter. Since the package had come from Spain, he first made sure that the caterpillar – a cabbage white – was commonly found in the UK. Then Darlaston read a wikiHow article to learn how to take care of his new pet.

Tesco caterpillarsSam DarlastonDarlaston turned a Tupperware container into a home for his new pets.

“I followed the instructions and put it in a Tupperware with holes in the top,” he said. “My housemates were really on board and we named him Cedric. We were kind of excited and weirded out, all at the same time.”

After sharing a cute clip of Cedric on Twitter, Darlaston went out to get some more broccoli with the refund that Tesco had given him for the first bag. But before he even opened the packet, Darlaston saw that Cedric was about to have some new friends.

“I thought, you know what, I’ve already got a house prepared,” he said. “So I introduced five more housemates to Cedric.”

That same night, Darlaston’s roommate opened their own bag of broccoli and found yet another caterpillar inside. Within hours, it had become a full house.

“A father of seven at this age,” Darlaston said with a laugh. “I didn’t expect it!”

Darlaston and his housemates named all of their new pets, and soon it was Broc, Olly, Croc, Janine, Carlos, and Slim Eric joining Cedric.

And Darlaston continued to share adorable updates about his caterpillars, documenting everything from love triangles to rogue trips to check out his vanilla incense sticks.

“All of a sudden we had these things wiggling around and we just became really obsessed with them,” Darlaston said. “We named them, we’d get them out and let them walk around. This is lockdown, you gotta do what you can to keep occupied!”

Things got even more exciting as the caterpillars entered the transition stage of metamorphosis just a few days later.

Cedric, the first caterpillar that Darlaston found, was also the first to begin changing.

“It was really amazing, but also quite shocking at first,” Darlaston said. “When the first one cocooned I was like, is it dead?”

“Cedric, the oldest, he was there cocooning. Once that happened with him, I understood what was happening with the rest of them.”

By June 22, six of the seven caterpillars had entered the chrysalis stage.

But Broc was still hanging on to his caterpillar days.

“It was cool cause they were all doing it in different stages,” Darlaston said. “When there was one caterpillar left, we let him have a run around, gave him more food, spoiled him.”

On June 21, 10 days after he discovered the caterpillars, Darlaston was greeted by Cedric the butterfly.

Darlaston let Cedric fly around the house for a few hours to get used to his new wings.

“It was really cool because, if you hold your hand still enough, they will fly on you and just chill,” he said.

Then Darlaston took Cedric outside. It was time for the first caterpillar child to spread its wings and say goodbye.

“The main feeling was excitement,” Darlaston said. “I was like wow, wicked, I’ve done a thing, he’s now completed his time here, it’s time to let him go and I’ve got six more to go.”

But as the days went on and more of his caterpillars transformed, Darlaston couldn’t help but feel a little sad.

Janine was next to fly the coop, followed by Broc, Croc, Olly, and Carlos.

The last to go was Slim Eric, the same caterpillar who had tried to cocoon on one of Darlaston’s incense sticks.

“I didn’t want to poison him so I put him on a candle holder, and he crawled underneath the candle holder and cocooned there,” Darlaston said.

As his roommates got their wings, Slim Eric continued to lag behind. But all of Twitter was rooting for him.

“People were cheering him on, asking ‘How’s Slim Eric?’ and saying ‘You can do it buddy!”‘ Darlaston recalled. “I was like, oh god, what if he doesn’t? This would be an awful ending!”

But Slim Eric finally transformed on Sunday, and letting him go was a bittersweet moment for Darlaston.

“It was quite sad!” Darlaston said. “But I’m just happy now that they have all survived it. It was 18 days, and I wanna do it all again.”

“The most interesting thing about me is gone now!” he added with a laugh.

While the broccoli butterflies are now out in the world, the love people had for their journey hasn’t wavered. Darlaston – who dreams of becoming a wildlife presenter one day – is now in talks to write a children’s book about his seven adorable friends, and plans to donate all the profits to wildlife sanctuaries.

Darlaston hasn’t heard from Tesco since he received a gift card for the two bags of broccoli, but said that was never the point of his Twitter thread.

Tesco caterpillarsSam DarlastonOne of Darlaston’s many caterpillar friends.

“The comedy value and the unusualness is why I tweeted it,” he said. “I didn’t want anything from Tesco and I’ve been back there a few times since. I just thought it’d be quite funny to have some banter.”

“To find an insect that eats that food in the food isn’t a shock for me, because it kind of should be there,” Darlaston added. “It just shows they’re not using pesticides I guess, organic broccoli for the price of regular!”

A spokesperson for Tesco told Insider that the company apologised for Darlaston’s broccoli.

“It seems like a hungry caterpillar made its way into Sam’s broccoli,” they said. “We’re really sorry about this and apologise to Sam for providing an accidental pet with his greens. We regularly test our fresh produce for quality but, as we encourage our growers to move to more natural production methods and greatly reduce the application of pesticides, this can occasionally lead to the very odd insect being found.”

Tesco caterpillarsSam DarlastonOne of Darlaston’s butterflies.

At the end of the day, Darlaston is just happy that his Twitter thread has kept people smiling during the pandemic.

“I hope it’s given them a little bit of hope in a way,” he said. “You see these butterflies now free, even though we’re still locked in.”

“But the butterflies are still out there, and we can live vicariously through them.”

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