There are a multitude of ways and means for raising caterpillars. The sky is the limit! It is not necessary to spend a lot of money buying expensive cages and habitats, or even making them from scratch. A very simple yet effective caterpillar 'home' is the inexpensive plastic shoe box that can be found at retail stores like Target, Walmart, Big Lots, and the 99¢ Store! The smaller and larger sizes are both perfect for raising butterfly larvae.
Caterpillars can be easily raised in these boxes because 1) there is plenty of room for them, 2) they are inexpensive and readily accessible, and 3) clean up is fast and simple!
What to do: Find a plastic shoe box with a loose-fitting lid (the majority of the stores nowadays sell these on-sale for around $1). Because of the loose-fitting lid, breathing holes are NOT needed! Wash and dry the inside of the box. Take a paper towel and cut or fold it to line the the bottom of the box. Note: Some paper towels are pre-scored and can be torn to fit perfectly so no cutting/folding is necessary. Click on the picture to enlarge it for more detail.
The box is now ready for the butterflies. With eggs, simply cut the leaf around the egg then place the egg onto the paper towel. Leave one or two fresh leaves near the eggs so that the newly-hatched caterpillar has something to eat. Put the lid on. Remember, it takes about four days for a Monarch caterpillar to hatch from its egg, and the first thing it will eat is its eggshell before it begins to look for Milkweed! NOTE: Replace the leaf/leaves each day and be sure to check for the babies!
With caterpillars, simply place fresh Milkweed leaves on top of the paper towel and place the larvae on top of the leaves. Put the lid on.That's it!
Click on the picture to enlarge it for more details.
Each day, be sure to clean out the frass (caterpillar poop) and provide plenty of Milkweed leaves for the caterpillars to eat. It may be necessary to replace the paper towel as well (replacing the paper towel daily will help tto reduce the potential for bacteria/virus growth). A paintbrush can be used to help brush out any frass left in the box. The paper towel helps in indicating if any caterpillar has bowel problems and may be ill (ill caterpillars should be euthanized as they can spread illness to the others through the frass, which is why changing the paper towel daily is a good idea).
By keeping the larvae that are getting ready to pupate in larger boxes, it is easier to manage the eclosing butterflies as they will have more space in which to spread their wings to dry. The larvae can easily pupate within the box along the walls and lid. Placing wooden chopsticks or sticks found outdoors in the box provides structures for the butterflies to climb upon and dry their wings after eclosing (coming out of the chrysalis). Another option is to make a special wooden 'jungle gym' by using a hot glue gun to glue wooden skewers together and placing the structure within the box.
It is not necessary to purchase a larger box, however, to house pupating caterpillars. The shoe box will also work just fine. Just be sure to have sticks placed inside near the pupae so that the eclosing butterfly will have a place to climb up and hang and dry its wings.
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some of the adorable clip art found on this website is used with the express written permission of D.J. Inkers