Building a Butterfly Habitat
Did you know that fewer than 10% of monarch butterfly eggs actually turn into butterflies?! When the butterflies lay their eggs on milkweed leaves, other bugs will quickly eat the eggs or eat the tiny caterpillars when they hatch.
Building a butterfly habitat is actually quite simple; all you require is a thin breathable fabric and a simple container. Most materials can even be found around your home.
You can use an old lantern or a box for your habitat. Cut windows in the box to ensure airflow. Using a piece of thin breathable mesh or fabric, secure screens to the side with hot glue so your caterpillars have fresh air. Be sure to have a solid surface at the top of the enclosure for the chrysalis to hang from.
Once your habitat is built it’s pretty simple to start raising caterpillars. My sister raised caterpillars with her family last year, releasing 177 Monarch butterflies, using an old Pampers box as an enclosure. You can really make your habitat as fancy or simple as money and time allow.
If you check your leaves about once a day you could find tiny little white eggs on the back of them. Cut off the part of the leaf that has the egg on it and place the leaf in a container; any container will do!
Be careful – this will quickly become a full-time job if you collect too many eggs/caterpillars as they eat an insane amount of milkweed! Eric Carle was not kidding when he wrote the book the Very Hungry Caterpillar!
Last year I actually ran out of milkweeds as I didn’t have milkweed in my garden so I had to find pesticide-free milkweed that I could give to the caterpillars. (Yes, if you saw me, that’s what I was doing in the ditch!). You can usually find it in fields or ditches, but be sure to wash it very well when you get home.
Making a Monarch butterfly enclosure!You will need:
- Old lantern or box
- hot glue gun
- screening or sheer curtain
- paper towels
You probably already have a couple of these things around your house.
Even though this milkweed plant doesn’t look spectacular now it will grow nice and tall with pretty purple flowers. In the fall it will grow giant seed pods that you can plant back in your garden for more milkweed next year. It’s a perennial so you will be able to enjoy it every year. These beautiful bushes are available at Anna‘s for $14.99 🐛
This is the only plant a monarch butterfly will lay her eggs on because it is the only plant the caterpillars can eat. (Check out our blog post from last week on how to care for a milkweed Plant🌱)
Some other great plans for attracting the monarchs are daisies, aster, lavender, and the butterfly bush.
Adding some butterfly-attracting plants will help bring even more butterflies to your backyard oasis.
Do I have you interested yet? After you’ve built your enclosure, here’s what’s next:
- Get a small plastic container and start collecting eggs off your milkweed plant.
- Once the caterpillars hatch and start to grow a little larger put them in your enclosure. If you’re not careful, the big caterpillars will eat the leaves with the other eggs or tiny caterpillars on them. So it’s good to separate them once they get to a certain size.
- Clean, clean, clean! Clean out your caterpillar enclosure daily to avoid waste build-up. Place a fresh piece of milkweed on the paper towel at the bottom of the habitat and when it’s time to clean it out, gently slide a fresh leaf in. You will need to do this around three times a day.
- Once your tiny little caterpillars are done crunching and munching they usually go on a walkabout and sit somewhere to split their skin (it can take about a day). Then they come back down to eat again. When they go on their final walkabout they will look somewhere at the top of the cage to hang upside down and will look like little tiny J’s at the top of your enclosure. In the blink of an eye, they will split their skin and transform into their chrysalis. If you don’t spend your whole day watching you’ll miss it because it only takes a couple of seconds.
- Now that your caterpillars have turned into their chrysalis all you have to do is wait and enjoy. Your little caterpillar will sit in his chrysalis for about 10-14 days. You will know he’s ready to emerge because his beautiful light green chrysalis will turn dark green, almost black. It’s translucent, and you will see the developing butterfly inside. They usually emerge early morning so keep an eye out because it’s another quick process of less than a minute. The fully formed Monarch will be out of the chrysalis, slowly moving its wings to dry them in preparation for flight.
- Once the butterflies have emerged and are ready to go, open the cage and watch the magical moment as they leave the enclosure! This will bring joy to everyone who sees it.
This year we planted more milkweed in our yard! By the end of summer, we will have great big pods shooting out the top of our plants that I can re-plant in my garden to make my milkweed garden twice the size next season.
If you’re short on milkweed, there are so many other kinds of butterflies that you can lend a helping hand to. Swallowtail butterflies will lay their eggs on parsley and dill so if you have these herbs growing in your garden make sure you keep an eye out.👀
This is honestly such an easy project and will bring joy and entertainment to you or your kids for hours each day! My children loved this experience when we did it last year and excitedly anticipate repeating the process this season. It was truly such an educational experience for our family and made us feel like we were doing something wonderful for the environment. It just requires time, patience and love.