Caterpillar cages/habitats/totes/containers should be disinfected regularly. Once the cage is empty, it should be disinfected before more caterpillars are placed in the habitat.
It sounds simple. It is simple. We’ll break it into individual steps to make it easier.
If you are allergic to or can’t tolerate bleach, pathologists recommend a hospital disinfecting solution. Bleach is the least expensive and is used by all the university pathologists I’ve spoken with.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Bleach and hospital disinfectant must be stored out of the sun. If a bleach jug is stored in sunlight, bleach becomes ineffective.
1) CLEAN THE CAGES FIRST.
Bleach can be ‘used up’ and become ineffective if cages have frass, leaves, and other items in them.
2) COLLAPSE CAGES IF POSSIBLE.
Some cages can be collapsed, making it simpler to place in a liquid solution. If you use larger cages outdoors, a pump sprayer can be used instead of soaking in a tub or sink of solution.
3) DISINFECT OUTDOORS IF POSSIBLE.
The more ventilation, the better.
4) TAKE OFF YOUR RINGS AND WEAR OLD CLOTHES.
Bleach dissolves the cement that is used to hold stones in rings. I lost three diamonds in my anniversary ring before learning this fact.
Bleach tends to splash and drip. We keep a set of old clothes that we wear only when we are disinfecting habitats, disinfecting empty labs, and painting.
5) WEAR GLOVES TO PROTECT YOUR HANDS.
Disposable gloves are wonderful. We buy gloves from Sam’s Club pharmacy area because we use so many in our labs. Gloves from Walmart and other stores are thinner and tear easily. They work fine but stay aware that they are not strong.
6) DO NOT USE HOT WATER.
Hot water decomposes the active ingredient in bleach.
7) FILL CHOSEN TUB, SINK, OR OTHER ITEM WITH YOUR BLEACH SOLUTION.
First place water into the container and add bleach to the water. Use a 1:32 ratio of bleach to water. For every gallon of water, add 1/2 cup of bleach. (This is for bleach that has an 8.25% active ingredient sodium hypochlorite.)
A few drops of detergent will break surface tension and will allow the bleach solution to touch all parts of your habitats and other items you disinfect.
Do NOT use soap when disinfecting butterfly eggs. Soap breaks the surface tension and the solution may be able to enter the eggs.
8) Insert habitats and other items into the solution. You can use a stick or a rubber/wooden item to push them under the solution if it is too deep for your gloves. All items must be totally submerged.
We keep an old bleach jug, filled with water, for this purpose. After adding habitats (they float upward) we place the filled jug on top to hold them under the solution.
9) Soak for 10 minutes, agitating with a stick several times while they are soaking.
10) Drain the solution.
11) Rinse well. Cover habitats with clear water. If you wish, add a cup of vinegar to instantly neutralize any bleach. Soak several minutes, agitating often.
Bleach dries as salt. If not rinsed well, habitats may have a layer of salt after they dry. Although salt won’t harm a larger caterpillar if it is on it for a short while, constantly daily touching salt could be harmful to caterpillars.
12) Rinse habitats again.
13) Pop habitats open to full size to dry. Drying in sunlight is recommended but not necessary.
14) After they are totally dry, fold habitats and store until they are needed again.
Do not keep the solution for another day. New solution should be mixed every day.
Wipe the bleach handle and cap with a bleach solution or disinfecting wipe. Handling the jug after cleaning rearing cages can transfer pathogens to the handle and cap.