I have a friend who wants to raise a caterpillar into a butterfly, but obviously didn’t know anything about the process. Here are the basics you need to know.
Every butterfly needs a specific plant, called a host plant, on which to lay their eggs. Monarchs will only lay eggs on milkweed; pipevine butterflies use the pipevine plant etc.. In the picture above , it’s a black swallowtail butterfly laying eggs on bronze fennel. The black swallowtail also uses dill, fennel, parsley plus a few others, so this is a good butterfly to start with.
1. The first thing you need to do is to buy the specific host plant. I particularly like bronze fennel since it’s a hardy perennial. Buy more than one and spread them around your garden so there’s a better chance for the butterfly to lay eggs on multiple plants.
2. The easiest way to find the eggs is to watch the butterfly flying around your host plant and pay attention to where they stop and lay their eggs. You can also just check the plant every day for eggs.
3. Once you find the eggs, cut off part of the plant and stick it in some water. I like to use empty soda cans. Cut off at the stem so you have something to stick in the water. This technique will keep the leaf fresh, although it will droop for the first day.
You will now need somewhere to keep your new eggs and leaves. I like to use a fish aquarium as it’s easy to see what’s going on and easy to clean out. You can literally use anything though. I also like to put newspaper on the bottom of the cage to help in clean up and I also put a piece of cloth over the top to keep out predators like small spiders and wasps. Once your eggs hatch, just keep them supplied with new leaves to eat.
I keep the eggs separate from the caterpillars. They might get eaten if they are on the same stem as a hungry caterpillar.
I usually keep my fish tank in the garage where it doesn’t get to hot. Obviously a fish tank will overheat in the direct sun. If you have a shady area, you could put it there. but realize it will fill with water when it rains. This does smell a bit, that’s why I don’t keep it inside.
4. After about three weeks the caterpillars will need some place to form their chrysalis. (Note – a cocoon is what moths make.)
The caterpillars want to wander at this point, so that’s why you need the lid. If you don’t have a lid, your caterpillars will go exploring.
I usually put in some sticks for them to use, but usually they climb to the top of the cage and use the wire mesh at the top.
After another week the chrysalis will open and the butterfly will emerge. The picture above shows monarch butterflies. I usually wait 24 hours before I release the butterflies.
The whole process takes about a month and is a fun project not only for kids, but adults also.