Not only are butterflies pretty to look at, they are important pollinators. Some species, like the beautiful Monarch butterfly, are in danger due to their food source being taken out by pesticide use, urban sprawl, and drought. I'm not a huge butterfly lover, but I do try to plant butterfly friendly plants, not necessarily to attract them to my garden, but to help them along in their journey and reproduction cycle.
Several years ago, I planted some dill in my garden for my husband. He has a life-long goal of making dill pickles using fresh dill, dill seeds, and cucumbers from our garden. I freaked out when I saw a huge caterpillar destroying "his" dill! I immediately snapped a picture of it and posted it on my favorite gardening website to find out what it was and if was friend or foe. I was quickly informed it was an Eastern Black Swallowtail. It's a keeper and should be "protected", raised away from harm, and then released. I grabbed a plastic container, an old medicine bottle that I'd washed out, a paper towel, some dill, and some orange tulle and began my butterfly cage journey. Over the years, I've redesigned my cage with the help of a couple of fellow gardening buddies. If you'd like to make your own butterfly cage (or caterpillar cage), they are inexpensive and easy to make.
What you'll need:
- Floral Foam or floral clay (I prefer the foam)
- Glad Press 'n Seal cling wrap
- Box opener
- Deep food storage container (approx. 64 oz)
- Tulle (Wedding netting)
- Water bottle, if using floral clay
- Hot glue gun
- A nosy kitty is a nice accessory and helper (NOT!)
* If you're using floral clay, cut the bottom of your water bottle off, about 1" - 1.5" from the bottom with your box opener or scissors. Fill with clay and wrap the foam and bottom of the water bottle with the plastic wrap. Poke some holes in the wrap and clay, wet, and then place your sprigs of host plant in the clay.
Place your square of foam into some water. It'll float, so you'll need to place something on top of it to hold it down. A cat food dish worked great for me. Allow it to soak while you collect your host plant stems and occupant, if you've not already brought them inside. I had an Eastern Black Swallowtail caterpillar waiting, so I went and collected several sprigs of dill and the little caterpillar.
Prior to placing your resident and sprigs of host plant into your cage, be sure to rinse off, upside down, in some slow running water. This helps rinse of any predators or other buggies that might attack the caterpillar. Once the sprigs are rinsed off, gently place them into the holes in the foam.
A few tips:
- Be sure to change the paper towel daily and clean out any frass on the foam.
- I can usually change out the food source every other day.
- I also keep a spare piece of foam wrapped up to use when I change out the food source.
- To transfer the caterpillar to the new sprigs of food, just lay the sprig it's on in the mess of the new sprigs. It'll figure out how to get onto the new stuff.
- Learn the stages of your caterpillar's growth. When it gets to the advanced stages, but before it pupates (eliminates all waste from its body, goes into the "comma" position, and starts making its chrysalis), put a larger twig or small stick in the cage. It will use that to build its chrysalis on and won't need any food source.