Why raise butterflies?

Why should we raise butterflies, Monarch and other species?

We can save them from predation.  Wasps, birds, spiders, predatory stink and assassin bugs, ants, and many other critters kill them, egg through adult.  Predation, from egg through chrysalis, isn’t about survival of the fittest.  Eggs, caterpillars, and chrysalises cannot run away and escape.  This is about saving many that otherwise would die.

We can save them from disease.  Disease is rampant in nature.  From simple bacterial diseases to the horrific viruses, such as Nuclear Polyhedrosis Virus, when we bring in eggs and caterpillars we can prevent many of them from becoming diseased.  Raising butterflies in a clean environment with clean sanitary practices saves many from death.

Gulf Fritillary caterpillar dead from NPV
Gulf Fritillary, dead from NPV

We can save them from parasites like OE, a protozoa that parasites Monarch and Queen butterflies as well as other butterfly species that host on milkweed.  By bringing in eggs and disinfecting them as well as disinfecting the plants we feed them, OE can be avoided.

OE spores on a wild Queen butterfly
OE spores from a wild Queen butterfly

We can save them from parasitoids.  Tachinid flies, chalcid wasps, and other parasitoids lay eggs in or on caterpillars or soft chrysalises.  By bringing them in before they are infected, we can protect them.

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NOTE: Disease, parasites, parasitoids, and predation are tools that nature uses to keep the species, as a whole, alive.  You can learn more about nature and death by clicking on this sentence.

When we raise caterpillars and others see what we do, it ignites a passion in others.  This passion leads others to become aware of butterflies and their enemies as well as their needs.

A private butterfly garden with dozens of species of host plants as well as dozens of species of nectar plants
A private butterfly garden with dozens of species of host plants as well as dozens of species of nectar plants

It teaches our children to respect and protect butterflies and our environment.  As we raise caterpillars, our children learn from us.  They learn the importance of building and protecting habitat, not just for butterflies, but also for other pollinators.

Jonathan discovers a Gulf Fritillary caterpillar in the garden
Jonathan discovers a Gulf Fritillary caterpillar in the garden

It teaches us the dangers of pesticides.  Many of us grew up in an era when pesticides were encouraged, far beyond the amount of encouragement today.   Pesticides were considered crop-savers.  Once we start raising butterflies and see the effect of pesticide, first hand, we re-evaluate our use of pesticides.  We either limit the types of pesticides we use or we totally eliminate the use of pesticides.  We begin to educate others, including nurseries, and (as a result) fewer pesticides are used on plants.

A crop duster returns from spraying crops with pesticide
A crop duster returns from spraying crops with pesticide

People share butterfly host and nectar plant seeds and plants.  Many enthusiasts give away seed, some asking for a self-addressed-stamped-envelope.  This adds to the number of pesticide-free butterfly plants that are grown for butterflies.

envelopes stuffed with (free) butterfly host and nectar plant seed
Envelopes stuffed with (free) butterfly host and nectar plant seed

It is a passion that is fun.  Because we clearly enjoy it, others become interested in what we do.  We are able to teach others about butterflies.  As a result, butterfly numbers increase.  More habitat is planted.  More people use fewer pesticides.  Even the choice of which government official receives our vote can be affected by whether or not they choose to protect our environment.

Why raise butterflies?  There are numerous reasons, all good for butterflies and nature in general.

 

Pupating lying down?

Sometimes a caterpillar will fall after it attaches.  What to do?  Some species will pupate fine laying down.  Some of those, such as Monarch, must hang to finish forming or they will form with one side flat.  Others, like swallowtails, do fine if they are left laying flat on a soft surface after they pupate.

Gulf Fritillary pupating on a coffee filter
Gulf Fritillary pupating on a coffee filter

When a Gulf Fritillary container built up too much moisture and several caterpillars fell after they had attached, I laid them on a coffee filter and continued feeding other caterpillars.  I decided to watch and see what happened.  As they pupated, I used old silk and attached them to the old silk.  This works if they are freshly pupated.  I left others laying on the coffee filter.  The next day most had pupated and hardened without problem.  Although there was a greater curve to the abdomen than normal, they emerged and flew without problem.

This method works well for swallowtails.  When one has attached in the wrong place or has been found laying down before pupation, they can be laid on a coffee filter or other soft paper and they will (almost always) pupate and harden without problems.

Now, when I don’t have time to wait for them to pupate so I can reattach them, I leave them laying down.

Note: if they are left on a hard surface, such as a counter top or desk, the soft chrysalis often adheres to the surface as it hardens.  When the chrysalis is moved, it either leaves part of itself attached to the surface or has a shiny deformed side.  We always leave them on a soft surface, such a a paper towel, tissue, or coffee filter.

WHEN do we know a host plant is safe (pesticide-free) to feed to caterpillars? 

Pesticide is a fearful thing when we’re raising butterflies and moths.

spintor

When we buy a plant or think our plants may have been treated with pesticides, we test the plant on one or two caterpillars before feeding it to all the caterpillars we are raising.  But the question is WHEN do we know a plant is safe to feed to caterpillars?  If the caterpillars are alive the next day, is the plant OK?

insecticide.bright.greenlorena.popelka.6

The answer is a simple and resounding NO.  Some pesticides will kill immediately.  Others take a day or two.  Some take three days (such as Bt).  Others will slowly kill them, by interfering with their mandibles and how much they can eat (lack of nutrition).  Yet others won’t affect them at all until they begin to pupate and won’t be able to finish the pupation process.

malathionandorganicidetreatedmilkweed6

If caterpillars are fed some pesticides just before they pupate, they will emerge fine, inflate and dry their wings, and begin to fly before falling to the ground, quivering and dying with their wings folded downward over their legs.

The only fully correct answer is that a caterpillar should be fed the plant and it considered unsafe until it emerges and lives a day as an adult.  BUT …

In most cases, after a caterpillar that has been eating the plant has successfully and fully pupated, it is safe.  

That isn’t the answer we hoped for but it is the answer we want, the one that will help prevent more deaths.

cropduster6

What to do with eggs?

Sometimes we need to take eggs off a plant before they hatch.  Depending on the species, we may disinfect the eggs or we may simply want to move them off a large plant so we can place them on a smaller plant.  What next?  Where to place them?

We use a plastic cup, from 2 to 5-1/2 ounce size.  The eggs are placed in the cup.  Once the eggs start to darken, we either place fresh tender leaves with the eggs, place the cup in a popup with the tip of the plant in the cup, or attach the cup to the plant we want them to eat.

Once they hatch, they go immediately to the  plant and begin eating.

Monarch butterfly eggs in a 5-1/2 ounce cup
Monarch butterfly eggs in a 5-1/2 oz cup

Click here to see the popup habitats we use for caterpillars.

Deformed chrysalises?

Reminder: After petting cats or dogs with oral (or topical) flea/tick medication, wash your hands well before touching caterpillars or their food.  The medication is actually a pesticide that kills fleas and ticks.  It gets into the dog’s body system, coming out in its skin oils and dander.  When we pet them, we get it on our hands.

Monarch didn't pupate properly

Some of the medications kill outright, causing caterpillars to vomit green and if it was strong enough, they die. Some of the medications cause improper pupation. Even others cause their mouth parts to work improperly, causing them to fail to eat well and they become weak and don’t grow normal.

You can learn more about the effects of flea/tick medication by clicking on this sentence.

Although chrysalises may be deformed due to other causes, flea/tick medication is one of the common causes for this problem.

Raising butterflies at home?

If you are raising butterflies at home, there are are several facebook groups that has tips. Everyone shares what works best for them.

Facebook: Caterpillar to Butterfly

We also share tips (and special offers) on Butterfly Conservation Supplies.

Which do you like better?  White or black mesh?  You can see through black mesh better than white mesh.

Which do you like better?  White or black mesh?  You can see through black mesh better than white mesh.  

 

Mesh of a window screen is on the left.  Mesh from a popup habitat from Butterfly Conservation Supplies is on the right.  Parasitoids are stopped by this fine mesh.

 

If you have to move a J’ing caterpillar (pre-pupa) or a soft chrysalis, you can use clothespins to hold them until they pupate and/or harden.

 

What does your rearing setup look like? 

 

Larger popup habitats can be used standing up or laying down.  

Swallowtail Host Plants for Your Garden

What should I plant for swallowtails?  This often-asked question is often answered with, “Fennel, dill, and parsley”.  But there are other species of swallowtails and most use different plants.

Note: not all species are found in every state.  Planting a host plant for a species that does not fly in your state will not make them appear and lay eggs.  We should all plant host plants for species that are found in our area.

(These are only some of the plants that these species use as host plants.  There are many others that we did not list.)

Spicebush Swallowtail and Palamedes Swallowtail:

Red Bay Persea borbonia
Swamp Bay Persea humilis
Silk Bay Persea palustris
Sassafrass Sassafras albidum
Spicebush Lindera benzion
Camphor tree (invasive non-native) Cinnamomum camphora

 

Zebra Swallowtail:

Pawpaw Asimina spp.

 

Gold Rim Swallowtail (also called Polydamas Swallowtail):

Important note: Buy pipevine plants according to their botanical names, not their common names.  Many species of pipevine have the same common name. Some pipevine species are deadly to Gold Rim Swallowtail caterpillars.

(Click on this sentence for a more complete list.)

Dutchman’s Pipe – Aristolochia trilobata
White-veined Pipevine – Aristolochia fimbriata
Fragrant Dutchman’s Pipe – Aristolochia pandurata synonym of Aristolochia odoratissima
Brazilian Dutchman’s Pipe or Giant Pelican Flower – Aristolochia gigantea
Calico Vine – Aristolochia littoralis (was A. elegans)
Dutchman’s Pipe – Aristolochia trilobata
Fragrant Dutchman’s Pipe – Aristolochia pandurata (was Aristolochia odoratissima)
Indian Birthwort – Aristolochia tagala

Pipevine Swallowtail:

Important note: Buy pipevine plants according to their botanical names, not their common names.  Many species of pipevine have the same common name. Some pipevine species are deadly to Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillars.

(Click on this sentence for a more complete list.)

Dutchman’s Pipe – Aristolochia trilobata
White-veined Pipevine – Aristolochia fimbriata
Fragrant Dutchman’s Pipe – Aristolochia pandurata synonym of Aristolochia odoratissima
Dutchman’s Pipe – Aristolochia macrophylla
Dutchman’s Pipe – Aristolochia trilobata
Fragrant Dutchman’s Pipe – Aristolochia pandurata (was Aristolochia odoratissima)
Virginia Snakeroot – Aristolochia serpentaria
White-veined Pipevine – Aristolochia fimbriata
Woolly Pipevine – Aristolochia tomentosa
Birthwort – Aristolochia clematitis

 

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail:

Tulip Poplar Liriodendron tulipifera
Hop Tree Ptelea trifoliata
Black Cherry Prunus serotina
Sweet Bay Magnolia virginiana

 

Giant Swallowtail:

Citrus trees Citrus spp.
Hop Tree Ptelea trifoliata
Rue Ruta graveolens
Prickly Ash Zanthoxylum americanumn
Hercules’ Club Zanthoxymum clava-herculis

 

Black Swallowtail and Anise Swallowtail:

(Click on this sentence for a more complete list.)

Parsley Petroselinum spp. 
Fennel Foeniculum vulgare
Dill Anethum graveolens
Queen Annes’ Lace Daucus Carota
Carrots Daucus carota
Rue Ruta graveolens

 

Canadian Tiger Swallowtail

Aspen Populus spp.
Black Cherry Prunus serotina
Birch Betula spp.

 

Ornythion Swallowtail – Papilio ornythion

Citrus trees Citrus spp.

 

Appalachian Tiger Swallowtail – Papilio appalachinensis

Black Cherry Prunus serotina

 

Western Tiger Swallowtail – Papilio rutulus

Willows Salix spp.
Wild Cherry Prunus spp.
Ash Fraxinus spp.
Aspen Populus spp.

 

Old World Swallowtail – Papilio machaon

Sagebrush Artemisia spp.
Wild Tarragon Artemisia dracunculus
Arctic Wormwood Artemisia senjavinensis

 

Indra Swallowtail – Papilio indra

Herbs in the parsley family Apiaceae spp.

 

Pale Swallowtail – Papilio eurymedon

Cherry Prunus emarginata
Ash Fraxinus spp.
Coffee-berry Rhamnus californica

 

Two-tailed Swallowtail – Papilio multicaudata

Chokecherry Prunus spp.
Hop Tree Ptelea spp.
Ash Fraxinus spp.