Butterfly sleeves allow you to view the caterpillars as they grow, while protecting them from predation. Be sure both ends are completely closed by using the long drawstrings to wrap around the cinched end for a tight fit. It's important to monitor food supply and move the caterpillars and sleeve to a new branch if needed. A small jewelry bag can be used in the short-term for protection until a larger sleeve can be obtained.
These sleeves can also be used to protect seeds, nuts and berries for later harvesting.
Some info about raising Lepidoptera:
Raising caterpillars and observing their metamorphosis is a great way to spark childrens' interest in science and biology, as well as conservation of these important and beautiful creatures. It's also a great way to interest others around us in planting their critical host plants, as well as other native plants.
For those who are interested, we are usually able to share Lepidoptera (moth and butterfly) eggs for rearing, starting in mid to late May. The eggs are most often provided by a local amateur entomologist, Kevin Clark, who has been raising butterflies and large silk moths for over 4 decades. If you would like him to schedule a time to share his collection with your classroom, or at a special event, please reach out and we will connect you! And if you have interest in raising caterpillars, let us know and we'll do our best to accomodate you (no charge!). Most often, we are able to provide luna, polyphemus and cecropia moth caterpillars. We may also be able to share monarch, giant swallowtail and other butterfly eggs or caterpillars. A list of each Lepidoptera's host plants can be found lower in this post. We will add to this list as our shared eggs/caterpillars broadens.
There are many options for raising the caterpillars to pupation. You can simply put them on their host plant in your yard and let nature take its course, though here at the nursery, we have found a poor survival rate with that approach, as birds, spiders and other predatory insects relish caterpillars as an important food source.
You can choose to protect them from predation as they munch away. We offer a variety of products from the website www.RaisingButterflies.org. You can also order direct on their website. Butterfly sleeves and pop-up cages allow you to protect the caterpillars while also observing them as they grow.
Some choose to raise their caterpillars indoors, but studies done on monarchs raised indoors show they are less hardy, and less likely to make it to their overwintering sites. Raising the caterpillars outdoors where they are subjected to sun, wind, rain and other natural challenges means a more adapted, healthy caterpillar, and butterfly or moth will result. We have found the easiest way to raise caterpillars is to put them on a lower branch of their host plant and protect them with a sleeve that can easily be moved if the caterpillars eat all the leaves in their enclosure.
Butterfly Sleeves can also be zipped overtop a larger potted plant.
For answers to your questions as you go along, check out the Facebook group moderated by Kevin Clark, Lepidoptera Rearing 101 Ohio.
Black Swallowtail: Golden alexander (Zizia aurea) is the only native host plant, but they will also feed on parsley, dill, fennel and carrot tops.
Buckeye: Wild petunia (Ruellia humilis) is the only native plant we can confirm they will eat in our area, but they will also eat non-native dwarf snapdragons and plantain.
Cecropia: apple, ash, birch, buttonbush, cherry, elderberry, maple, sweetgum, walnut
Giant Swallowtail: Devil's walking stick (Aralia spinosa), prickly ash (Zanthoxlum americanum) and hoptree (Ptelea trifoliata).
Imperial: Birch, oak, pine, Prunus, sweetgum, walnut, willow
Pipevine Swallowtail: Virginia snakeroot (Aristolochia serpetaria) and Dutchman's pipevine (Aristolochia macrophylla). These butterflies have been extirpated from Sunbury, according to Kevin Clark. We are planning a conservation effort to help restore them to this area!
Polyphemus: apple, birch, wild cherry, dogwood, elderberry, elm, hazelnut, hickory, honeylocust, hop hornbeam, maple (though not box elder), oak, sweetgum, willow, witchhazel
Luna: Birch, black gum/tupelo, walnut, butternut, hickory, oak, sumac, sweetgum
Monarchs feed exclusively on milkweed (Asclepias), and there are 14 species native to Ohio. Butterfly (A. tuberosa), Clasping (A. amplexicaulis), Common (A. syriaca), Four-Leaved (A. quadrifolia), Green-Flowered (A. viridiflora), Poke (A. exaltata), Purple (A. purpurascens), Spider (A. viridis), Sullivant's (A. sulivantii), Swamp (A. incarnata), Tall Green (A. hirtella), White (A. variegata), Whorled (A. verticillata) and the little-known Cynanchum laeve, commonly called honeyvine milkweed. Do your research before deciding to introduce this vine into your garden, as it is quite aggressive and can cover and smother the other plants in your garden.
Please do NOT raise monarchs on exotic milkweeds. These plants do not experience senescence (seasonally programmed death) in the fall. Caterpillars feeding on tropical milkweed have been shown to demonstrate reproductive behavior rather than diapause (cessation of breeding) at a time when they should be preparing for migration. In southern states, tropical milkweed is associated with an increase in OE (Ophryocystis elektroscirrha), a debilitating protozoan parasite that is normally kept in check when plants die back in winter. Tropical milkweed grows year round in absence of freezing temps, allowing an accumulation of OE and higher exposure to monarchs feeding from the leaves.
Spicebush Swallowtail: Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) and Sassafras (Sassafras albidum)
Zebra Swallowtail: Pawpaw (Asimina triloba)
* This host plant list may differ from others you see online because it is based on Kevin's many years of experience raising these caterpillars. Host plants can vary from location to location, so what a caterpillar eats elsewhere, even in another part of Ohio. they may not eat here. Research is ongoing as to why this is...
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