Raising butterflies and moths from home can be a fun project! All you have to do is find a caterpillar or butterfly eggs, and you can get started!
Step 1 - Tools you will need :
If raising the caterpillars indoors, you will need a small box or enclosure, depending on how many caterpillars you have. Make sure that there is an opening for oxygen, but not large enough for the caterpillar to escape! You should also have a small vacuum (preferably a wireless one) to keep the enclosure clean as you raise the caterpillars.
Image: Polyphemus moth eggs
Step 2 - Feeding
Do some research on what plants your caterpillars prefer to eat (in the case of my Polyphemus moth caterpillars, they enjoyed eating oak tree leaves. Freshly cut leaves from trees can be stored for around a day in water until they dry up.Make sure that the leaves are dry before feeding the caterpillars. Also make sure to keep track of how much your caterpillars are eating, since they will need more food as they grow through their stages of growing. When shedding, caterpillars will usually attach themselves to a branch and lower their head, so it is important to not move them during this time. If you are placing them somewhere else, cut off the small piece of branch that they are on and place them on some fresh leaves. Remember to throw out any leaves that are dry or branches that have been eaten, looking carefully to make sure that you are not throwing out any caterpillars.
Images: caterpillar stages
Step 3 - Cocoon
Once your caterpillars have decided to form a cocoon, you can put the cocoons in a small container, making sure to spray with a few drops of water each day.
Images : Polyphemus moth cocoon and butterfly
Here is an example from experienced lepidopterist Jason Weintraub about how LandHealth nurseries support projects that he is working on:
“ I am a lepidopterist at the Academy of Natural Sciences (where I have worked a an
entomologist for the past 25 years). My research focuses on
a group of moths that occur primarily in Asia, but I also raise
caterpillars and photograph life cycles of many different species
of local moths and butterflies to use in our museum's educational
outreach programs. I am rearing some larvae of a butterfly species that feeds on Zanthoxylum and other plants in the Citrus family: Papilio (Heraclides) cresphontes.
Papilio cresphontes is the largest species of butterfly found in
North America; The fully grown caterpillars are quite impressive
in size. ( see photo). The larvae of this species are able to avoid avian predators because they resemble blobs of bird poop that have fallen on a leaf of their host plant !
photo: J.D. Weintraub / ANSP Entomology
If the "bird poop" camouflage doesn't work, their second line
of defense is the chemical defense common to all larvae of
swallowtail butterflies: They can evert a defensive gland (the
osmeterium) from behind their head giving off a pungent odor.
I like to think of swallowtail caterpillars as the "skunks" of
the butterfly world !”
Check out the nursery page on our website to see our wide selection of native plants!