Whether you raise butterflies by planting host plants in a garden and leaving it all to nature or you bring caterpillars indoors to raise them and release the adults when they emerge, you are making a positive step toward increasing the number of butterflies in nature.
Both of these methods of raising butterflies are wonderful. Because nature must kill most before they become adults, bringing caterpillars indoors to raise them saves more butterflies than nature raises from the same number of caterpillars.
Caterpillars are fascinating! Finding a caterpillar in the garden and raising it indoors is a wonderful method to observe, learn, and participate in butterfly conservation. From child to adult, this experience is a delight.
To raise butterflies indoors, you need a source for the plants that caterpillars eat. You can grow them in your garden or find them growing wild. Each species of butterfly caterpillar eats a different plant or set of plants. Some species eat the same plants. Monarch and Queen butterfly caterpillars both eat Milkweed. Gulf Fritillary, Variegated Fritillary, Zebra Longwing, and Julia butterflies all eat passionvine. Many Fritillary species of butterflies eat Violets. The first step to raising caterpillars is to have enough safe food for the caterpillars to eat. If you buy from a local nursery (usually less expensive), be aware that the plants may be treated with pesticides. If you can’t find them locally and you need plants immediately, please check with Shady Oak Butterfly Farm.
Once you have correct host plants growing in your garden, butterflies will come and lay eggs on the plants. But first you need to plant the plants. The first question is: which host plants? Be sure to research and find which species of butterflies are naturally found in your state/area. If I, in north Florida, planted plants for the Great Spangled Fritillary, I’d never have a Great Spangled Fritillary butterfly in my yard. They are not found near our state or in our state.
Once you have eggs and caterpillars, it’s time to start bringing a few indoors. If you cannot locate caterpillars in your garden, you can purchase eggs and caterpillars from Shady Oak Butterfly Farm. The fun (and at times not-so-fun) begins!
You need rearing containers that are either disposable or easy to disinfect. You can make your own by recycling common items (like in the photo) or buying inexpensive caterpillar popups. The caterpillars and rearing containers must be protected from all types of insecticides. This includes dog and cat flea and tick medications.
Because nature has many nasty surprises, like parasitoids and diseases, indoor rearing won’t always be successful. Be prepared for the unexpected! Even if you do EVERYTHING right, sometimes you’ll have caterpillars and chrysalises that will die. But you’ll raise far more of your caterpillars to adults than nature would have successfully raised.
Are you ready? Over the next few months we will add links on this page to new pages with more information about each topic. Let’s get raising!