This time of year, mid-October, is a good time to look for caterpillars and chrysalises and bring them into a protected area.
The problem with just letting them stay on plants is that they may not develop properly with the colder temperatures. Also, if they do make it to the chrysalis stage, they are so well camouflaged, that they are almost impossible to find in the spring when you are cleaning up the garden waste.
Monarchs need to fly to Mexico, so as soon as they form the chrysalis, try and keep them in a warmer area so they can develop into the butterfly stage. When it gets over 50 degrees, you can release them outside.
Black Swallowtails over-winter in the chrysalis stage. I like to keep the chrysalises in the garage which is not heated. They will usually emerge in April. If you do find a chrysalis in a outside area that you won’t be messing with, leave it alone.
Giant Swallowtails also over-winter in the chrysalis stage, so if you have them keep them in a cold area over the winter.
I like to raise caterpillars in a fish tank covered with a metal mesh screen. I put paper towels on the bottom. The caterpillars climb to the top and hang from the mesh. I prefer this method since it is easy to sanitize the fish tank with a bleach solution.
Another method is to use a laundry hamper with paper towels on the bottom.
One of my late season observations was that my hummingbird feeders were attracting painted lady butterflies and bees. Since the hummingbirds were gone, I took off the top of one of my feeders and put in some plastic landing pads.
As you can see above, butterflies and bees are both attracted to this feeder. I am still using the 1 to 4 ratio of sugar to water. The bees will drink the liquid within an hour.
As you can see in the video below, it does get rather busy, but the bees paid no attention to me and were not aggressive at all.
While Monarchs have been rare this summer, there have been lots of Black Swallowtails around laying eggs in St. Louis. I have personally raised or given away about thirty caterpillars to schools.
Luckily Black Swallowtails have a wide palette of host plants. These include, bronze fennel (their favorite this year), rue (also good for Giant Swallowtails), Golden Alexander – Zizia aptera, dill. fennel, Parsley, and Queen Anne’s lace. If you see a caterpillar on any of these plants, there’s a good chance it’s a Black Swallowtail.
Here are videos from the University of Missouri and their Center for Agroforestry. While the videos are meant mainly for farmers, it’s also valuable information for any gardener.
Scott Hoffman Black
I just found a new podcast that I’m enjoying, Smarter Every Day, and found that he did a whole series on butterflies. I think you will enjoy it.
Here’s the link for the entire series.
Below is a link to just one of the videos.
Ideally butterflies will find plenty of nectar in the flowers they find outside, but there are occasions when the flowers are gone and you want to feed some butterflies which have come out late in the fall or very early in the spring. Here are some possible solutions.
Note – the reason this subject came up was because a friend had a butterfly house, that I used to think were a waste of money. The house was outside until January 1st, when she brought it inside. The next day, a Mourning Cloak came out into the house. She has been feeding it every day for the last three weeks.
Fruit – I’ve used watermelon and orange slices and honeydew melon.
Gatorade – I use the plain version. I’ve also heard of people using Juicy Juice.
Hummingbird mix – 4 to 1 mix of water to sugar.
Monarch Watch – sugar/honey – 1 part to 9 parts water.
Nigel Venters Mix – 1# fructose, 1 cup water, bring to a boil for 2 minutes and then add 1 tsp of soy sauce. Use this as a concentrate. Add to water in a 1 part concentrate to 9 parts water.
Honey to Water – 1 to 10 mix
Monarch Watch has an artificial nectar mix they sell. I bought one and here are the directions.
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 4 cups of water warm water
- 1-2 drops of food color (why would they add this?)
- 1 drop fruit extract – any kind.
- Contents of the packet – there is no indication what this is other than some sort of preservative.
- They tell you to keep this in the refrigerator and it should last for months.
- Note – this small packet has about 15 nuggets of bee pollen. Some dissolves and some doesn’t. This seems like a simple ingredient to add to any mix. I take bee pollen every day so I always have some around.
Monarch Watch also suggests putting the nectar up high and near a light source.
One of the native plants that I recommend for most gardens is Slender Mountain Mint or Pycnanthemum tenuifolium.
What’s good about this plant is that it attracts a lot of butterflies and bees, lives a long time and blooms almost all summer long.
What’s bad about the plant is that it wants to spread and is a bit invasive. I just spent about three hours digging it out of a couple areas and have the blisters to prove it. It’s not as bad as common mint, but it definitely will take over an area if you let it.
I still have two areas where I have it in my garden. One area has a problem with erosion and so this plant is ideal for that. The other area is one that I just have to control it by digging every year.
What is beautiful about the plant are the orchid like flowers and the many types of butterflies it attracts. It’s also a bee magnet, so if you have kids you may want to put in in an area which is away from foot traffic.