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Old 09-02-2010, 08:34 PM   #1
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Okay, you're all talking about rescuing caterpillars and keeping them to see what they turn into. How about some simple step-by-step advice to those of us who may want to try this?
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Old 09-02-2010, 09:05 PM   #2
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First, and most important, you need to take note of what plant you found the cat on so you know what to feed it. If you don't have access to food plants for it on or close to your property, don't try - I've tried it and it is very tedious driving around looking for the right tree or shrub or stealing leaves from your neighbors yard.

Second, you need to have a rearing chamber of some sort. For small cats, a tupperware with air holes works. For larger ones, I have a small plexiglass cage that I use (it is a multi-purpose cage bought for small herps, but it works.) The main criteria are that the holes in the cage allow adequate air, don't allow the cats to escape, allow the humidity to be kept fairly high so the leaves don't dry out too quickly (which is why I no longer use the mesh pop-up insect keepers I've had for years for this purpose), and be easy to clean to remove frass.

Third, to keep the leaves moist, put them in as a stem with a few leaves rather than individual, and either wrap the ends in a moist paper towel, or put them in a small vase with a tiny neck (I've had cats drown from putting the leaves in something with too wide a neck; they are very stupid!) Change the leaves every 1-2 days, depending on how they are doing. Clean the bottom of the cage daily to remove frass. Be sure there is a stick or something for the cat to make a chrysalis on, or dirt to burrow in if it is a hornmworm.

Watch and wait. Ideally you know what you are raising and how long they will stay in their chrysalis, particularly whether over the winter or just a few weeks. If they overwinter as a pupa, you need to put them in the garage or equivalent so they get cold and bring them in in the spring.

I hope this is detailed enough. ButterflyLinda, what would you add?
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Old 09-02-2010, 09:18 PM   #3
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I start raising mine in Gladware containers. John cut out the tops for me, I hot glue window screen to the top. Holes are okay, but small cats can get out. I generally start with eggs since wild collected caterpillars are often infected with other critters. (parasitized by flies, wasps, etc)

After a caterpillar sheds its skin twice, I transfer them to a rearing tower. I have several that I use, made out of a tomato cage and tulle. I put the host plant (in my case, since I mainly raise monarchs it is milkweed) in a glass or bottle and use a paper plate as a collar to keep the cats from falling in. They don't see very well!

The rearing tower is a nice way to raise caterpillars since they can pupate on the tulle when they are ready. Monarchs almost always form their chrysalis at the top. Swallowtails make their on a vertical surface. I have also used these towers for raising Io moths and spicebush swallowtails.

I hope I make sense. I have started back to school and am exhausted already! Today I worked until 6, went out to cut milkweed, fed caterpillars and then answered a call about an injured cormorant! No time for dinner tonight!
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Old 09-02-2010, 09:18 PM   #4
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Wow! That's quite a project! I guess I knew it wasn't quite as simple as I hoped! I'd love to see that white lion-faced Hickory tussock moth caterpillar go through the changes. Wouldn't it be easier to just put it on the balcony with the right plant?
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Old 09-02-2010, 09:25 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sage View Post
Wow! That's quite a project! I guess I knew it wasn't quite as simple as I hoped! I'd love to see that white lion-faced Hickory tussock moth caterpillar go through the changes. Wouldn't it be easier to just put it on the balcony with the right plant?
The problem with this idea is that your caterpillar can still be eaten by spiders, birds, etc. I have a collapsible hamper in my yard over the top of some parsley plants with very fat swallowtail caterpillars. I have the hamper secured into the ground so that the hamper won't blow over and the cats won't get out. They'll pupate on the hamper, then I will put it in the garage for the winter.

I had an unknown caterpillar earlier in the summer that I was trying to raise. I found it eating morning glory. After a week, it stopped eating and wasn't doing much. I took it back to the field where I found it because I was afraid it needed to burrow into the ground to complete its life cycle.
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