In the winter …

Here it is, the middle of winter in the northern half of the world. People aren’t seeing butterflies unless they live below the freeze line, areas equal in the longitude of the central and southern part of Florida, and below. Because butterflies are cold-blooded, they cannot be active when temperatures are too low. If they are caught too far north, they will die unless they are a species that goes into diapause as adults (overwinters as adult butterflies) in the north.

Mourning Cloak butterfly

So what do we do in the winter that pertains to butterflies?

  1. Disinfect rearing containers. No matter if they are made of glass, plastic, mesh, screen, wire, or any other material, they should be disinfected after each batch of caterpillars before they are used again. Nature has many butterfly diseases that contaminate rearing containers.
  2. Repair rearing containers. Mesh, cloth, screen, and other materials sometimes become torn or damaged. Mice, rats, and other predators will eat holes in containers to eat the contents. They can be repaired with glue, wire, thread, or other items. When a mesh habitat is damaged beyond repair, save the undamaged mesh (cut out the sides) for future repairs.
  3. Order more rearing containers if you need them (or even if you simply want more). You need enough containers to be able to disinfect them between batches of caterpillars. Remember that it is best to never emerge adult Monarch or Queen butterflies in the same container where there are caterpillars.
  4. Plan your new spring butterfly plantings. Remember, don’t limit your butterfly plants to just one area. Plant them here and there throughout your yard. Make your land a butterfly habitat, copying nature. Nature plants butterfly plants between other plants. This provides some protection for butterflies (egg through adult).
  5. Read books about butterflies and their plants. Your local library will have butterfly books you can check out and read.
  6. Join butterfly and gardening clubs, either in person or online. There are many Facebook groups that focus on butterflies. Share your experiences and photos. Ask questions. If your focus is Monarchs, we encourage you to join The Beautiful Monarch. There are too many wonderful butterfly pages for us to begin to list the best.
  7. Preorder plants, supplies, and kits. Sometimes supplies are limited and pre-ordering ensures that your order is filled before later orders.
  8. Organize your butterfly related photos. Most of us take hundreds of photos of butterflies, our gardens, and other butterfly related items. It’s a good time to organize them on your computer to make it easier to find specific photos later. Remember, take photos of everything, including the bad things. If you are raising caterpillars and some get sick and die, sharing these photos with knowledgeable people who care can sometimes answer the question of “what happened?”
  9. What else butterfly related do you recommend for winter months? Please share your thoughts with us in the comment section of this blog.

2 thoughts on “In the winter …

  1. Hi, I have a question about disinfecting enclosures, plants and containers. In the plant world we have many diseases also and I have used alcohol for a very long time. I have reactions to bleach, so I prefer alcohol. Does alcohol kill OE and diseases that plague caterpillars and butterflies? After a couple of days or a rinse my guess is it is safe for them to ingest? What about hydrogen peroxide? I also use it to kill fungus and mildew on plants? Does it kill OE and disease as well? Thank you for your help, L


    1. If bleach can’t be used, a hospital disinfectant that contains quaternary ammonium is recommended. I’ve never talked with an insect pathologist that approved anything but bleach and that particular hospital disinfectant. I’ve talked with about six insect pathologists about insect diseases. According to what they say, alcohol isn’t reliable for killing pathogens. BUT you have to do what you can and if you can’t use bleach and can’t afford the hospital disinfectant (good ones are expensive), then you just do the best you can. Alcohol is deadly to caterpillars – almost instantly. I would be sure to rinse well. Hydrogen peroxide doesn’t do the job either. But they are certainly better than nothing. Best wishes and thank you for what you do for butterflies!


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