The Great Outdoors: 5 Tips for Raising Wild Butterflies

by Matthew Worwood

There are few things more exciting than exposing your child to the wonders of nature – it’s magic, and is guaranteed to ignite curiosity in ways almost unobtainable elsewhere. This article shares a nature story involving two caterpillars, and five tips for raising wild butterflies.  

Last fall, my eldest found several colorful caterpillars in his Nana’s garden. This particular species were fond of parsley and could always be found munching on the storks of the parsley bush. My eldest would visit them regularly and eventually wanted to take some home “so they will be safe.” Reluctantly I gave in to his demands and gathered up one caterpillar – soon to be accompanied by a second one.

We took them home, knowing absolutely nothing about caterpillars. At first, I encouraged my eldest to observe and draw them. However, after a few hours, my eldest wanted to feed them; so we offered them some lattice, fruit, and even greens from the Dill family, but as I later found out caterpillars are incredibly picky creatures and would only eat the fresh goods from Nana’s garden. This meant we had to run to Nana’s house every other day to top up on food, and the more they ate, the more they pooped – these creatures literally transformed into pets, and I had to Google how to look after them successfully. 

This is a picture of Lucas looking for the caterpillars
My eldest searching for more Caterpillars

After looking after these caterpillars for a month, I realized I needed to increase my knowledge of how to support their transition into butterflies, so I took to Google. It was suggested I add some sticks to replicate their natural habitat. Two weeks later, the magic happened, and within a couple of days, both had begun to form a chrysalis. First, it was green, but then it took on the same shape, color, and form as the branches I had added. It was super cool and my eldest was beyond ecstatic. He took the little cage to school, almost as if they were his favorite pets.  

The forming of the chrysalis.

These creatures stayed in their tiny homes throughout the winter and we placed them on a top shelf until they were almost forgotten. Then one morning in early spring my son came bursting up the stairs to share the news that we had successfully raised two beautiful Black Swallowtail Butterflies. It was an incredible moment and one I will genuinely cherish for years to come. After a few days of observation and awe, we finally let him free during the morning of a beautiful sunny spring day. 

However, this experience has left a special place for butterflies in my heart. More importantly, it was a journey of collaborative discovery as my eldest and I learned how to raise wild butterflies at home. 

Five Tips for Raising Wild Butterflies

  • Be sure to identify the plant where the caterpillar was found. This is likely their favorite food should be what you feed them.
  • Place a damp kitchen towel on the ground of your enclosure. Caterpillars poop little black pellets and this makes it easier to clean up.
  • Find a stick or branch that can be placed at an angle in the enclosure. Doesn’t have to be fancy, but they need something when they come to making their chrysalis.
  • Don’t worry about adding water. These guys get all the fluid they need from their food (at least that’s what Google told me).
  • Once the chrysalis has formed, it’s reasonably secure. If you’ve found a caterpillar in the fall, it won’t hatch until the following spring, but during the summer, it might only take a couple of weeks.

Finally, once the butterfly does hatch, don’t panic, most won’t need to eat during their first 24/48 hours. When they do look for food they will look for nectar so find some fresh flowers or fruit. And remember, butterflies are more fragile than caterpillars so handle them with care and release soon after they emerge from their chrysalis.

Once they hatched we had to move them into a larger enclosure. We kept them there for a couple of days and then let them go.
Once hatched we moved them into a larger enclosure, before letting them go a few days later.

*For disclaimer, this is my first year raising butterflies, and my only experience was Black Swallowtail Butterflies. 

Matthew Worwood
Matthew Worwood is an educator, Creative Studies scholar-practitioner, and co-host of the Fueling Creativity in Education podcast. He is a professor of Digital Media Design at the University of Connecticut and a husband and proud father to three young boys.

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Colon Cleanse May 31, 2015 - 7:11 am

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Stephen M. June 28, 2015 - 3:49 pm

What did you use to house the butterflies?

Matthew Worwood June 29, 2015 - 12:37 am

Thanks for the question Stephen. We had a circular net bag where we kept our out door toys. It looking similar to the Butterfly houses you can buy on Amazon, and worked reasonably well, but next time I’ll be buying real one.


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