Tips for Raising Healthy Caterpillars
The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Caterpillar is happily munching away in his little habitat. Each morning, I select a new tulip poplar leaf and place it near the edge of the previous day’s leaf. It takes about 30 seconds or less for the caterpillar to realize there is fresh food, and it begins to crawl onto the new leaf. That gives me an opportunity to discard the old leaf and dump out the frass.
Quick Tips:If you ever decide to raise your own caterpillars, keep in mind that a clean habitat is essential for healthy caterpillars.
- Begin with a sterilized container with a perforated lid for good air circulation. I have quite a collection of these from purchasing caterpillars from biological supply houses, but you can also use recycled deli containers. Just be sure they are at least four inches deep. Poke holes from the underside if you use the plastic lid to prevent the caterpillar from hurting itself on any sharp edges. Or use a coffee filter secured with a rubber band for the top. If you use a recycled container, wash it with a 10% bleach solution and dry thoroughly.
- Clean the habitat daily, removing the previous day’s food and the frass (droppings).
- Keep different species in separate containers.
- If you want to build a habitat for easier viewing, check out these cage instructions.
- Or you can purchase a butterfly habitat like the one I have made by Insect Lore. These are nice because you can actually add a potted host plant for a more natural environment. Just be careful not to overwater the plant.
- Check for mildew. Fungus growth means your habitat is too humid which can make your caterpillars sick. Increase air circulation.
- If you are gathering leaves from outside, be sure to pick only those that have not been sprayed with insecticides. This includes areas that are sprayed for mosquito control. If you live in an spray zone, log onto your county’s website to locate the schedule. Cover your host plants to prevent the insecticide from settling on them. Better yet, order or grow your own host plants indoors to be certain they are safe to use as caterpillar food. (Obviously, this is hard to do if you are raising Easter Tiger Swallowtails whose host plants are trees. But tulip poplar (yellow poplar) trees do sprout easily from seed, so you might try growing a few of those in pots.)