If you read here regularly, you have probably heard about our butterfly project. This year, I wanted to raise and release butterflies. Monarchs in particular, but I am also raising Black Swallowtails as well. I have read that statistically, 98% of Monarch eggs never make it to butterflies, due to predation and parasitism (did you know wasps can and will lay eggs inside butterfly eggs caterpillars, and chrysalis? You can wait all that time and have a wasp emerge.) As for Black Swallowtails, 1 out of 100 eggs make it to butterflies. And many people have decided to try to give these pollinators a helping hand – and this year I am trying as well.
I started by visiting a local nursery that is all about butterflies. They have tables of plants, labeled by butterfly. The plants are organic, raised without pesticides by the garden center owners themselves. If you get plants with pesticides, you will unfortunately kill your cats (caterpillars). So it is important to make sure your plants are clean and safe. They all have preferred food – monarchs only eat milkweed, but black swallowtails are not as picky. They have a wider selection to choose from, and easy to grow plants too, like parsley, dill, fennel, carrots, rue, and lovage. They will eat and eat and eat and it feels like you have to keep feeding them constantly – probably because you are. They also make a big giant mess too – caterpillars also poo a lot. (although their poo is called frass)
That photo at the top is how our project began. Three tiny tiny little cats. In their first stage they are wee little things, and black and white, as a natural defense against predators (who think they are just bird poop. so much poop here in this post) As they grow they are yellow and black, and seriously it will be overnight that they change.
Tiny wee baby. Although, they start off much smaller. Almost like a speck of dirt if you aren’t looking. Don’t put these babies in with big caterpillars either, they will be munched and eaten. I learned that the hard way, poor number four was lost to the belly of a caterpillar.
And like I said they eat like crazy. So you have to make sure you have enough to sustain the population you bring in. Right now I am doing ok – I have six caterpillars but three are tiny and three are about to go into chrysalis, so I only have to worry about feeding those three bebes.
I like to see what pattern they are. Some are more black, some more yellow. I didn’t expect that. I expected uniformity. I love nature.
You sort of get an idea of when they are going to go into chrysalis. They start wandering around, going walkabout I call it, and then for a final treat they expel a bunch of waste from their bodies. It’s gross but I guess they don’t want to drag that on to the next stage.
Today, I had to upgrade their tank. I now have three little tanks going – one tiny little one that I call the nursery for the very smallest, a smallish tank (pictured up top) for when they get a bit bigger, then a huge mongo one for the huge mongo caterpillars. I lucked out, my in-laws found that tank on the curbside for the garbage and grabbed it for me. Free giant tank!
Black Swallowtails can stay in chrysalis a really long time. Like years. So that is something to consider if you are thinking about raising butterflies. And to be a more butterfly friendly, it is recommended as well to have your tanks (rather than small jars) somewhere that experiences a day/night cycle and natural temps. And then know, that you will be their slave, feeding them constantly, which means cutting the leaves from your garden and bringing them in, putting them in water, probably twice a day. And cleaning up after them. They are the messiest. My friend recommended the paper towel method and so far that is working. It makes it so much easier. I use little Oui yogurt jars for my water and put foil over the top to stick the plants in.
So far, no monarchs. But I have my fingers crossed!
If this is something you are interested in, there are groups all over – I am in a local butterfly group on Facebook, and also a forum on Reddit which is good to see setups and read what other people have to say. I would suggest doing some reading on it or trying a pre-made kit situation (Insect Lore has a good one on Amazon), and you can get the feel for it. It is worth to see them eclose or find them flying about. I will do another update later, after my first cats eclose – hopefully they do at least! Another good resource is Save Our Monarchs as well.
So far, we are enjoying our journey. Wyatt loves them and will kiss the tank. It is a fun way to feel like we are doing something for the planet and the natural world.