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Raising caterpillars
Raising caterpillars
Published by Viceroy
Default Raising caterpillars

I say raising caterpillars because that is what we do, we do not raise butterflies, it is not that easy. There are many different ideas and methods when it comes to raising caterpillars. I will explain what has worked for me. I begin by collecting at the egg phase, I do this to assure myself I am saving the maximum amount of any given species, eggs are extremely vulnerable to ants, and I have lost dozens just waiting from one day to the next, this also ensures that there will be no chance of a parasitized caterpillar. I know I cant get them all but I am content that I am doing my part.

Once ldentified I collect the eggs from the host plant by carefully working them off the leaf with a tiny flat edged screwdriver used for my glasses.I put eggs no more than five at a time in to a small container,like what I get sweet and sour sauce in when we get takeout. They must wonder why I ask for so man sides of it each time. Container will get labeled, dated and covered.Eggs are surprisingly strong just dont squish them. As soon as they begin hatching I will add a leaf for them to begin eating. This is when your work begins.Caterpillars do nothing but eat and poop, their waste is called frass. This is one of the biggest challenges when raising caterpillars indoors,and specifically in containers.
Once my cats get to second instar I will move them to a more permanent place,using Qtips, or the flat edged toothpicks to place them on their own leaves of host plants. I use water bottles with an x cut into the cap,I insert cuttings in the cap and fill the bottle with water. This keeps food fresh much longer,but also most importantly will keep your caterpillars from falling in the water and drowning.For the most part they are content to stay on the host plant, but occasionally you will get wanderers. Use Qtips to pick up small caterpillars,and place back on leaves.Larger cats can be picked up by hand but keep in mind the Osmeterium,this is their defense, and though it wont hurt you it creates a horribly pungent odor my daughter equates to the smell of spoiled milk. I add food as needed and let the caterpillars find it,trying to handle them as little as possible.Remember to always check your leaves thoroughly and rinse, removing any predators that may be lurking.At this point the bottle goes in to a 54 Qt. tote uncovered, and the whole thing goes in to my table top green house. I remove frass daily. As the caterpillars reach the later instars cleaning becomes more frequent. Frass makes great fertilizer so I make sure to recycle.
When your caterpillars are ready to pupate they will look for the perfect place to do so. Many will pupate right on the plant. Others will wander quite a bit.Once they begin pupating they will stay perfecly still and begin creating their chrysalis. Do not disturb during this process.When the chrysalis has dried I will hang them on a peice of foam board using pins.This then sits in a small tote lined with paper towels from end to end and up the sides.I try to preserve as much silk as possible when relocating the chrysalis to facilitate hanging.Mist the chrysalis daily.When butterflies are almost ready to eclose the chrysalis becomes almost transparent and the butterfly will be very clear to see. It is important that they have a place to dry their wings once they have eclosed, on the foam they are perfectly fine.If they fall off it is important they have a means by which to climb back up.They are very wet just after eclosing. If they fall on to a smoothe surface it could spell doom.I lay out additional paper towels, or mosquito netting, leading back to the perch as a back up plan should they fall.
I let them dry and work their wings, and release the next day if possible.
Things to Remember.
1.Cleanliness keeps all your caterpillars disease free. Replace paper towels as needed, remove frass daily, and keep any tools you use sanitized.
2.If you notice a caterpillar that is stationery and not eating, DONT PANIC right away, he could be in a Molt give him some time.
3.If you are certain that you have a diseased caterpillar. Remove immediately and sanitize everything, to avoid spreading.
4.Try to grow your own host plants if possible, if not an organic grower or a trusted nursery should be your supplier,many growers spray their plants prior to delivery to the box stores, and even though they might be plant based sprays they can be lethal to caterpillars.
5. Give newly eclosed butterflies a chance to really dry and stretch their wings.At least a day is fine, carefully collect them once temperature is warm enough for, release and introduce them to the garden.
6.Big caterpillars are bullies try to keep them sized evenly.
7.This whole process can take up to a month from egg to butterfly, make sure you have enough time for the complete process.
8. What ever enclosure you use make sure there is enough room for newly eclosed butterflies to dry and expand their wings.
9.Newly eclosed butterflies will expel a fluid called meconium. It looks nasty but is part of the process and is perfectly normal.
10.Never pull your caterpillar off of any surface, you can do damage to their prolegs which help them stay anchored. Instead try and coax them on to a popsicle stick to relocate them if needed.
I use these methods no matter what type of caterpillars I am raising and have had a near perfect success rate.Good Luck.
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By Sage on 10-19-2012, 08:21 PM

Excellent report and great photos, Viceroy! It almost makes me want to do it!
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By Viceroy on 10-21-2012, 03:53 PM

Originally Posted by Sage View Post
Excellent report and great photos, Viceroy! It almost makes me want to do it!
Thanks Sage, you should give it a shot. Of all the things I do this is the most rewarding! I will help any way I can.
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By linrose on 10-21-2012, 04:27 PM

I have 3 chrysalids of black swallowtail now residing in my garage. I'm assuming they won't eclose until next spring but I'm checking on them every day anyway. I had the enclosure outside but one of the chrysalids was eaten by a titmouse, I actually saw how she did it. So I have since brought it into the garage where hopefully they will survive. I don't know somehow I feel like I'm screwing with nature. I get that we need to boost the populations of butterflies but it still seems weird.

Anyhow, I am learning a great deal about the life cycles of butterflies so that's a plus, and I'm determined to see at least one eclose on my watch.
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By bridget1964 on 10-21-2012, 04:42 PM

What a great post! I love raising caterpillars of all sorts, too.

Linrose, I have about 20 black swallowtail chrysalids overwintering as well as a promethea moth cocoon. I keep them in the garage as well. Be sure to check on them and spritz them with water every week. Remember that rodents like to eat them also, so they aren't guaranteed to be safe there.
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By linrose on 10-21-2012, 04:46 PM

brit - is it important to spritz them? I thought outside air was enough to keep them hydrated.
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By bridget1964 on 10-21-2012, 04:47 PM

Some caterpillars take much longer than a month, so be prepared for that. Depending on the species, some can take 12 weeks from egg to pupa! When I raised Io moth caterpillars, they didn't pupate until November. I drove everywhere looking for black cherry that hadn't dropped its leaves! Polyphemus caterpillars take a long time, too.
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By Viceroy on 10-21-2012, 08:18 PM

Thanks you guys are great and I think it's fantastic that you are playing such an important role in keeping the numbers up.I gardened for many years before I actually started raising caterpillars. I let nature take its course, and did well.

Though I began to notice in years with high concentrations of wasps and ants, my population would decline dramatically. So I decided to lend a hand, and since then my numbers have almost doubled. I have closed down my operation indoors because of an upcoming vacation, and it's kinda hard to find someone to babysit caterpillars. But there are still plenty of eggs and cats in the yard for next year.

Bridget, its awesome that you have so many BST for next year, what did you host them on? I went through approx 30 1gal parsleys this year. I put some bronze fennel in the ground to help out next year.

Linrose, definitely spritz if indoors, they don't get the extra moisture from dew and rain inside.
Great work!
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By Equilibrium on 11-02-2012, 10:46 AM

I'm loving this!!!
I'm thinking what I need to do is be on the look-out for some sort of a spacious enclosure that allows for good air flow that I could set up in my living room.... maybe something that's 4' x 4'? Bummer that I missed the end of season sales on mini-greenhouses like what you've got but... there's always Craigslist and freecycle!!! I've got enough of those rubbermaid storage bins and I can start setting styrofoam sheets aside now that I'm seeing how they're being used. My living room is the catch all for all my goodies!!! The dogs don't go in there much unless I've got chicks in there so I'm thinking that'll be a good spot. I'm thinking that I've got to plant way more milkweed than what I've currently got planted and I'm thinking that I'll need to have a bumper crop of potted milkweeds for them to feed off of too!!! I wouldn't want to get caught with my pants down buying potted milkweed... I'd go broke!!! Around here.... it's the monarchs that need a hand. I think just about everything eats those not to mention their numbers are in serious decline because of the clear cutting going on down in Mexico.
Spritzing them sounds easy enough and it makes sense!!! Cool addition.... something I probably wouldn't have thought to do since I've never seen it mentioned anywhere!!!
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By bridget1964 on 11-02-2012, 12:29 PM

I have had moth cocoons dry out when I didn't spritz them. The winter air tends to be very low in humidity and moisture, so adding some water to the pupae seems to help. If they were outside on the side of a tree, they would experience rain and sleet and snow. In our garages they are protected from animals (hopefully) but aren't going through the weather.
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butterflies, butterfly, caterpillar, caterpillars, cats, chrysalis, collect, collecting, eggs, raise, raising, raising caterpillars

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