Butterfly eggs can look quite similar to extremely different, depending on the species. Some, like the Monarch and Queen, are identical. Some, like the Question Mark and Red Admiral differ by the number of ridges down the sides. Some are totally different, like the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail and the Pipevine Swallowtail.
Can you tell the difference between a male and female Monarch Butterfly? With adult butterflies, it’s the dots on the hindwings that gives a good positive answer.
What about chrysalises? Yes, you CAN tell the difference with good eyes or a camera.
Did you know that there is a butterfly caterpillar that eats mistletoe leaves? It’s their only diet. Mistletoe is their host plant.
The caterpillars look like the leaves of mistletoe. Do you see the caterpillar in the photo to the left?
Great Purple Hairstreak butterflies tend to drink nectar from light colored flowers.
Why are eggs laid near aphids, other plant pests, and caterpillars? Simple. Butterflies and moths are attracted to their host plants by scent.
When an aphid or other plant pest (including caterpillars) eat or drink from the plant, they damage the plant, releasing its scent. The scent is strongest where it is being actively damaged. Sometimes they actually lay an egg on the plant pest, like this Monarch butterfly egg laid on an aphid.
This Sleepy Orange butterfly caterpillar has three Sleepy Orange eggs on it.
We often see Gulf Fritillary butterflies laying eggs close to an area or actually where there are caterpillars actively feeding. In the third photo, we see a Gulf Fritillary butterfly laying eggs on my hand. After cutting passion vine to feed caterpillars, my hand was covered with passion vine scent. She came to my hand and laid three eggs. In the photo, she is laying the second egg.
Keep an eye out in your garden. When a butterflies comes in to lay eggs on a plant with caterpillars, do they first tend to fly to the area of the plant where a caterpillar is feeding?
Things go wonderfully well in our indoor rearing area and then disaster happens. Caterpillars die. Chrysalises pupate deformed. Adults don’t emerge or emerge crippled. It’s easy to want to give up. Hang in there!
Remember, nature is against you. It keeps a species alive by killing most of the individuals in the species. As we raise them indoors, we are fighting nature even as we are aiding it.
When disaster happens, remember that you can’t always win. Nature is stronger than we are. We must fight and trick nature into keeping more alive than it intends.
What to do when disaster happens?
1. Take photos – this helps you keep a record for your own knowledge, gives you something to show others to obtain their opinion/thoughts, and will help you as you learn signs and symptoms of diseases and pesticides.
2. Clean up – euthanize sick and dying critters.
3. Disinfect – using a bleach solution, disinfectant wipes, and/or hospital disinfectant, wash everything that your critters touched and that you touched after handling critters. Remember cell phones, light switches, even the handle and lid of your bleach bottle. Scissors, faucet handles, and so many other things could have been touched. Pathogens can be nearly anywhere if a bad outbreak of disease happened.
4. Stop and think – can you figure out what happened? Share your story and photos of the problem on a Facebook group to obtain thoughts from others who raise caterpillars inside. Sometimes there is something we can do to prevent it from happening again. Sometimes not.
5. Remember – nature kills 98% before they become adults. If you lose a few, you’re still doing better than nature. Nature’s intent is to keep the species alive, not individual butterflies.
You CAN do it!
Can pets with tick medication and caterpillars co-exist in the same home? Yes, they can. These medications are actually pesticides/insecticides. They are safe for mammals but not for insects.
The different active ingredients in different brands work by various methods. What kills with green vomit is a different ingredient than the one that keeps them from pupating properly.
In nature, butterflies have so many enemies, from egg through adult. Why?
Math is the answer. Simple math.
It’s the time of year when common milkweed has nice big leaves. That means it is time to cut, disinfect, and freeze milkweed leaves for emergency times. Check it out by clicking on this sentence.
Those of us in the south wish we had common milkweed leaves to freeze. Have you frozen milkweed leaves? Which species of milkweed did you freeze?
It depends. One of the most popular pesticides around is one used for the express purpose of killing caterpillars. It is 100% organic and can be used on plants that are certified organic.
Organic pesticides are as deadly to caterpillars as non-organic pesticides.
Dogbane is a plant that so strongly resembles milkweed that many people, including those experienced in the field, can be fooled it it. Monarch caterpillars will not eat it.
Dogbane is related to milkweed and the Milkweed Tussock Moth (actually a tiger moth but more often called tussock moth) will eat it.
Dogbane also has white sap that can harm eyes, making it even more difficult to tell them apart. Click on this sentence to learn how to tell them apart.