How to Create Butterflies (with Images)

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How to Create Butterflies (with Images)
How to Create Butterflies (with Images)

Look out the window and maybe see a beautiful butterfly fluttering outside. It is surprising that such beauty originated from a caterpillar - a little creature little more than an inch long and likely guilty of its morning rose gnawed. But the encounter is fleeting, and the question arises in his mind: "Is there any other way?" Fortunately, this impasse has a simple solution: just create them yourself!


Part 1 of 5: Catching a Caterpillar

Raise Butterflies Step 1

Step 1. Provide a well-ventilated container

Insect nurseries can be purchased at pet shops and via the internet, or improvised with a homemade object. Preferably provide something with a wire mesh cover to give the caterpillar something to cling to. An aquarium or a 4 L glass pot will also do, as long as the mouth is covered with a piece of canvas or cheesecloth secured with a rubber band.

  • Do not use the bottle cap with holes for air intake, which do not provide adequate ventilation, as well as have burrs that can injure the caterpillar.
  • Place a 2-inch layer of soil and grass at the bottom of each container if you believe the caterpillar is a species whose chrysalis is below ground. If not, just line them with a layer of paper towels or newspaper.
Raise Butterflies Step 2

Step 2. Look for caterpillars on your plants

Rather than killing or poisoning garden caterpillars, identify them (see the "Notices" section) and capture them to let them turn into butterflies. Butterflies appear in late spring and throughout the summer, depending on the region of the globe. If you don't know where to look for caterpillars, search the internet or a local wildlife almanac for the plants they use as hosts. Be careful not to capture an endangered species, which is illegal. Different types of butterflies use different vegetables as hosts. Some examples:

  • Monarch butterfly - milkweed;
  • Cloudy Green Butterfly - Boxwood;
  • Tiger butterfly - papaw;
  • Vanessa-dos-thistles - thistle;
  • Swallowtail butterfly - parsley, fennel and dill;
  • Cecropia, Viceroy and Limenitis arthemis - cherry tree.
  • If it's not the season for caterpillars or you don't have time to look for them, buy them from a supplier - a subject to be discussed in more depth in the last chapter of this article.

Part 2 of 5: Creating a Home for the Caterpillar

Raise Butterflies Step 3

Step 1. Lure the caterpillar onto a stick

Use a branch (preferably from the host plant) or similar object. Be very careful when transporting the caterpillar, which can die even with a slight fall.

  • It should not be caught by hand for three reasons: it will be more difficult to accommodate it in its new home (because the caterpillar clings firmly to the surface it is on and could injure itself if pulled off by force); she will be exposed to bacteria on your hand, potentially toxic to her; and some caterpillars are poisonous (see the "Warnings" section).
  • Place the stick with the caterpillar into the container. The stick is important as it gives the chrysalis a resting place.
Raise Butterflies Step 4

Step 2. Return to the tree or bush where you found it

Cut a small branch with a few leaves. This is probably the plant she uses as a host (and food). Know what the caterpillar eats before trying to feed it. There are species, such as the monarch butterfly, that only eat one type of plant (in this case milkweed), others that have a more varied diet, but all would starve to death before trying to eat a vegetable they do not know.

If you have any doubts, look for the host plant of the species you caught in an almanac of the local fauna, provide some leaves of this plant and place them in the nursery. Even caterpillars like to have more than one option

Raise Butterflies Step 5

Step 3. Place the leaves in the container

Before that, inspect them for insects or spiders, which can injure or even kill a caterpillar. Replace the leaves daily as caterpillars do not eat old or dry leaves. To keep food fresh for longer, place it in flower transport tubes (sold cheaply at flower shops) with water. Do not put food in a dish, pot or vase, as the caterpillar could fall into them and drown.

When the caterpillar is on the food you need to replace, don't try to pull it out, or you could tear its little legs, which cling tightly to any surface. The best thing is to place the new branch inside the nursery and let it make its way to it, only later to remove the old branch

Raise Butterflies Step 6

Step 4. Keep the container outside, in a hidden, safe area, away from extreme heat or cold, and away from pets or humans that might disturb the insect's development

If you live in a dry climate, it is a good idea to sprinkle the pond with water occasionally, as caterpillars like humidity. But be careful, as the water provides opportunities for the proliferation of fungi.

To increase the humidity inside the nursery, wrap plastic or cellophane around it, which retains the heat and, consequently, the humidity inside. This is especially suitable for viceroys butterflies and thistle vanessas

Part 3 of 5: Taking care of the caterpillar

Raise Butterflies Step 7

Step 1. See it every day

Clean up excreta and fungus accumulated in the nursery. Resist the temptation to handle it, especially when it goes into lethargy or changes in color, which signals the beginning of metamorphosis. Continue to supply the nursery with fresh food and wait for it to be transformed. The chrysalis (from the butterfly) or the cocoon (from the moth) will soon be formed.

  • Do not touch the chrysalis. At this stage, the insect does not need food or water. Just spray the interior of the aviary to ensure adequate humidity.
  • Caterpillars produce a lot of excreta. To make the nursery easier to clean, it would be a good idea to line the bottom with newspaper. Cleanliness is important: living with your own excreta can get sick and kill the caterpillar.
Raise Butterflies Step 8

Step 2. Monitor caterpillar behavior

Lethargy and chromatic alterations signal the proximity of ecdysis or pupal formation, periods in which it is very vulnerable, and it is important not to disturb her or her environment. You will notice that, at this stage, she has a contracted body.

These symptoms can also be caused by an illness. If the caterpillar dies, dispose of it immediately to avoid contamination of healthy specimens

Raise Butterflies Step 9

Step 3. Check for free space around the chrysalis

This ensures that, upon awakening, the butterfly will be able to fully open its wings without touching the bottom or sides of the container. Only then will your wings be able to develop and dry correctly after the emergence of the cocoon. Otherwise, the specimen may become incapable of flight, which would sentence it to death.

  • If necessary, move the branch or object on which the chrysalis hangs to provide adequate conditions for emergence into adulthood. But remember to be very, very delicate. Move it slowly. If you drop the future butterfly, you will hurt it.
  • If the chrysalis falls off, touch a piece of paper with slightly cooled hot glue to the end and wait for the glue to harden. Then attach the paper to a piece of cardboard or cork, and position it as it should in the container.
Raise Butterflies Step 10

Step 4. Be patient

The duration of the pupal stage depends on the species of butterfly or moth. If you have a sharp eye and are able to identify the caterpillar's distinctive colors and marks, search for its species in an almanac or on the internet. Some species - the monarch butterfly, for example - emerge from the chrysalis in 9-14 days. Others remain in the pupal stage all winter and emerge in spring.

  • Your only interference during this period should be to spray the inside of the container. The caterpillar does not need food or water; just a peaceful environment.
  • The chrysalis color change is a good sign. When it becomes clear, the time is coming. Emergency can happen in the blink of an eye: if you want to witness it, don't go anywhere. The butterfly will then hang for a few hours for its wings to open and finish developing.
  • If the chrysalis darkened, it may have died. Try bending it slightly. If she doesn't return to her normal position, she's dead.

Part 4 of 5: Taking care of the butterfly

Raise Butterflies Step 11

Step 1. Prepare so that the butterfly can feed

After the emergence of the cocoon, it does not eat for several hours, which is necessary for the wings to be irrigated with blood and dry on the outside. When you release it, it will eat in your garden, if there are flowers with nectar in it or a drinking fountain for hummingbirds, for example. There are butterflies that are attracted to very ripe fruit. If you want her to be around, prepare your garden.

Don't be discouraged if you end up raising moths instead of butterflies. The designs of the wings of moths are as intricate as those of butterflies - the difference is that the former are not always as colorful. Even in a monochromatic creature, it's amazing to contemplate the degree of complexity that the shapes created by nature can reach

Raise Butterflies Step 12

Step 2. Observe the butterfly for a few hours

When her wings are dry, put your finger under the butterfly's legs, and she should climb on it. Take it outside and put it in a flower, and you'll probably be able to make some good pictures. If you've researched the species, you'll get a sense of its life expectancy - some only live a day! Keep this in mind and don't be long in giving him freedom.

Without freedom, a butterfly does not live fully. You can only keep it if you have a large garden that meets the insect's needs. Furthermore, many species migrate during their lifetime - if you want them to live, you will have to stay with them for a very limited time

Raise Butterflies Step 13

Step 3. See it be free

There are butterflies that live for a few days, others that hang around for a few days and then leave, and some that live for a few weeks. No matter what happens, rejoice that you created a butterfly and contributed to the perpetuation of this incredible animal.

If you've raised a moon moth, cecropia, or Antheraea polyphemus, don't worry about feeding them: they don't have a digestive system

Part 5 of 5: Obtaining caterpillars by other means

Raise Butterflies Step 14

Step 1. Consider catching an adult female insect

Most adult females that exist in the wild have already mated and are therefore able to lay eggs. If you catch one, you can encourage her to do the pose.

  • To stimulate oviposition in a butterfly, house it in a nursery with a bottle of water and some branches of its host plant on the side closest to the light source (the sun, preferably). It might be a good idea to leave her in a cool, dark place for a few days to get used to her new home.
  • Stimulating oviposition in moths is easier: place the adult female in a large paper bag and roll up the mouth of the bag. Eggs will probably be laid after a few days. Tear off the piece of bag where the eggs are and, without touching them, place them in a more suitable container.
Raise Butterflies Step 15

Step 2. Visit a butterfly shop

With the popularity that butterflies have gained in recent times, several butterfly shops have sprung up around the world - many of them, by the way, in Brazil. In the United States, there are butterfly shops, like Monarch Watch, that sell caterpillars. American citizens can order and receive them at home, safe and sound.

Providing food for purchased caterpillars can be a problem. The monarch butterfly, for example, feeds exclusively on milkweed, which will need to be ordered if they are not available in your region

Raise Butterflies Step 16

Step 3. Buy caterpillars from a breeding site

If it is impossible to find a specimen in the backyard or if it is not the time when the butterflies are born, which varies from region to region, look for a caterpillar breeder. Most companies offer several species, and you'll know exactly which one you'll get. Vanessa-dos-thistles is one of the most sold species, as the foods in its diet can be bought easily.

This option is, however, less exciting than finding a butterfly and offering it the foods it would find in your area. Guard your garden for a few months. Use up all your possibilities before resorting to a breeding site


  • Caterpillars do not need to drink water, as they hydrate themselves with the water present in the leaves.
  • If you want to adopt a Monarch butterfly caterpillar, look for caterpillars in milkweed. Cut the branch where she is and put it in the nursery so she has something to eat. This minimizes the chances that the insect will be injured during transport.
  • Breed different species of caterpillar and see what kind of butterfly each one gives rise to. Watch out especially for caterpillars that look similar to bird droppings, which make beautiful navy blue butterflies.
  • Search in multiple places; not just in your garden. Also go on an expedition in a public park, which would be a great excuse to enjoy nature with your family.
  • Butterflies and moths are pecilothermic animals: they use the sun to keep their bodies warm. In addition, they need to be in a region where there are flowers with nectar to feed.
  • If the caterpillar dies, do not let yourself down. They are delicate animals and depend on very specific conditions and foods to thrive. Find out more about the species you've caught to provide it with the right conditions. Remember to remove dead caterpillars from inside the pond, because if they have died of infection, healthy animals can be contaminated.
  • At a frequency of one to three days, remove the caterpillars and fresh leaves from the nursery, discard all excreta and spoiled leaves and wash the container, leaving a few drops of water in it for the caterpillars to use. The fact that the caterpillar produces a lot of excreta signals that its diet is poor in the nutrients it needs. Try offering her leaves from a different plant.
  • Moths without a digestive system can be kept in captivity for as long as you like, as they neither feed nor migrate. That said, the ideal is to release them so that they enjoy some freedom in their short life.
  • If you use a canning jar as a nursery, make a few small holes in the lid to provide ventilation for the butterfly.


  • Be careful when picking up varieties of caterpillars that spit poison or release stingings. These defense mechanisms can damage the eyes if they come into contact with them.
  • Do not catch or disturb endangered or legally protected insects.
  • Find out if the breeder has all legal permissions before buying the caterpillars.
  • The ideal would be to catch a wild specimen from your region rather than bring or buy one from another region. Exotic species, when better able to survive than native ones, can be harmful to the balance of the ecosystem as a whole. Almost all countries have strict laws to inhibit ecosystem exposure to exotic species.
  • There are butterfly species, especially in the UK, that feed exclusively on nettles. Pick them up carefully, or you could get burned!
  • Be careful when dealing with very colorful, prickly or shaggy caterpillars, which are often poisonous. Raising them is worth it, as they tend to turn into beautiful butterflies, but it's best to start raising them only when you have some experience handling harmless caterpillars.

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