How to Raise and Release Butterflies

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Watching caterpillars grow into butterflies can be a truly marvelous way to show a child about the life cycle of a butterfly.  It also makes for an exciting display at any major event.  Regardless of the reasoning behind raising butterflies for release into the wild, it can be a fun experience for anyone.  With a little bit of knowledge it is possible for most anyone to raise butterflies from home to do the exact same thing either for themselves or to share the joy with someone else such as a child. 

Setting up the enclosure

A butterfly enclose is actually pretty simple to setup.  The first thing to consider is how large the enclosure needs to be.  This is normally determined by how many butterflies there are going to be inside of it.  Obviously the more butterflies there will be the more space the enclosure is going to need to accommodate them.  Normally for a single butterfly a simple pickle jar is going to be more than adequate.  For more butterflies it is a good idea to use a simple plastic cage that can be purchased at any pet store. 

If a butterfly net enclosure is available then that could be used as well.  These net enclosures provide great visibility and breathing but can also be dangerous if there is a cat or dog in the same house.  This is why a plastic enclosure is often times the best solution.  If a jar is used make sure to cover it with a piece of cheese cloth and not the cap the jar came with. 

It is important that the enclosure is kept out of direct sunlight and away from drafty vents.  Caterpillars can be impacted by extreme temperature changes and air conditioning and heating would definitely cause that.  It is a good idea to keep them in a well lit area but again not in direct sunlight.

Feeding the caterpillars

Before caterpillars should be collected it is important to find food that is appropriate for that type of caterpillar.  Caterpillars do not eat just any type of plant, they want particular types.  While they may change their variety slightly from time to time due to availability it is important to provide the correct nutrition if they are live to full term. 

Here are some of the types of plants that common butterflies enjoy:

Monarch - milkweed
Black Swallowtail - Dill, Fennel
Tiger Swallowtail - Paw Paw
American Painted Lady - Daisy
Common Buckeye - Snapdragon

There are hundreds of different types of butterflies so it is a good idea to determine the type of butterfly you would like to raise and then find the proper plants to feed them prior to ever adding caterpillars to your enclosure.  It is important when placing these plants into your enclosure that they aren't simply placed in water.  Butterflies aren't the most intelligent insects and drown very easy.  If standing water is in their enclosure there is a good chance they'll find a way to get trapped in it.  It is a good idea to actually plant their favorite foods in soil to prevent this from happening. 

Remember that caterpillars are eating machines.  As they eat they are going to release waste.  Throughout the growth stages into a butterfly it is a good idea to remove any additional waste throughout the enclosure.  This will ensure healthier caterpillars which ultimately means more and healthier butterflies. 

Obtaining Caterpillars

The best way to obtain caterpillars is by buying them either from a garden supply store or through a website that specializes in butterfly gardens.  There are numerous options online that will allow someone to order in quantity as well.  They also will typically carry the foods that are needed to grow the caterpillars successfully.  This is a great way of finding varieties of butterflies that wouldn't normally be found in a specific region. 

It is advised to obtain these caterpillars when the temperatures aren't too hot or too cold as they will be shipped.  During those times of year that have weather extremes the chances of having casualties in shipping is going to be much higher.  It is best to attempt to raise and release butterflies in the spring or fall for this reason alone. 

Waiting for butterflies

Once the caterpillars are in place it is a good idea to simply leave them alone outside of normal cleaning.  The caterpillars will do their thing until they are ready to emerge as beautiful butterflies.  To help them along the way it is a good idea to have areas where they can create their cocoons.  By placing sticks inside of he enclosure it will normally give them a sufficient area to place their cocoon.  It is a good idea to have more sticks than there are caterpillars to accommodate all of them with the least amount of stress possible. 

After they emerge it is a good idea to leave cut fruits out so that they can obtain sugar without drowning in the juice of it.  As they begin to flutter around the time has come to release them.  It is important that they first are able to fly and once that is confirmed then there's no reason why they can't be set free into the wild. 

More about this author: Wayne Ramsey

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