Monday, August 15, 2016

Raising Butterflies

A few summers ago, I posted a picture on Facebook of a beautiful (to me) caterpillar that I was allowing to eat my parsley because I liked him. A butterfly enthusiast friend saw it and told me it was a swallowtail butterfly caterpillar and to look for others. I did and my parsley was covered. I quickly bought a butterfly house and kept them safely there until they formed their chrysalises and turned into beautiful swallowtail butterflies. It was an amazing process to witness and so special to share with my kids (or kid at the time).

The next year I planted parsley, milkweed, and lots of flowers butterflies like (lantana, butterfly bush and cone flowers are among the top favorites), and that time my milkweed was overtaken by monarch caterpillars. I was so excited, and once again it was an amazing process to watch. I bought an even bigger butterfly house for the next year, but we'd placed a shed on top of my milkweed, and I didn't get any monarchs, and for some reason no swallowtails either. My sister, however hit the mother load with her massive milkweed garden with over 40 caterpillars, and she shared some with me. 

Monarch caterpillars on my milkweed

Releasing the monarchs

One of my favorites of my girl releasing monarchs with my sister

That brings us to this year. My milkweed wasn't very plentiful, but I had two dill plants and a gigantic barrel of parsley, and the swallowtails came! I currently have 15 chrysalises holding beautiful butterflies that will soon emerge - one did this morning. My daughter is 4 now, and she pours over our butterfly book, can identify butterfly nectar flowers when she sees them, and checks on our current crop of swallowtails on a daily basis. I love sharing this piece of God's amazing creation with her, and I love being a part of it myself. 

A tiny swallowtail egg is hatching behind my first finger.

You have to look carefully, but you can see tiny caterpillars beginning to eat...

And here you can see much larger caterpillars have now demolished my dill plant.

How many chrysalises can you see?

The first Black Eastern Swallowtail to emerge. Hello, Beautiful!

My girl, who has been just as captivated as me during this whole process.

Many of my friends who have followed along on Facebook or Instagram have asked me how they can get butterflies to come to their yards, and it's so easy! I decided a blog post was needed to explain just how easy it can be so that more of you can enjoy this amazing process too, while also helping out the butterflies! If they are protected in a butterfly house, free to eat as caterpillars without fear of predators eating them, and if their chrysalises can rest in peace, more healthy butterflies will grace us with their beautiful presence! 

First you have to figure out what butterflies are common in your area. For us in the south, there are several types of swallowtails, the monarch, and a few others, although my experience is mainly with the Eastern Black Swallowtail and the Monarch. You can order painted lady caterpillars online, and we've certainly done that, but there is just something so satisfying about having your yard blessed with the whole process!

Once you know what butterflies you want to summon, you've got to figure out their nectar plant (what butterflies like to eat) and their host plant (what they will lay eggs on - what the caterpillars will eat). And you've got to plant both. This can be in pots or containers for many plants like dill and parsley, although I think milkweed and butterfly bush do better in the ground. Milkweed will spread itself and grow like wildfire. It will also come back every spring, so make sure you have room! And milkweed is both a nectar plant for many butterflies as well as the host plant for the monarch...who badly needs your help!

The reason you need to plant host plants is caterpillars are much pickier than the very hungry caterpillar in our favorite children's book. They will ONLY eat certain plants, and butterflies will ONLY lay eggs on those plants. That is why you MUST have the host plants if you want caterpillars.

For the Eastern Black Swallowtail, you want dill, fennel, Queen Anne's lace, and parsley (I've had the most luck with dill and parsley). For the monarch you want milkweed (and there are several types - any will do).

My resource for this information and so much more is this butterfly book which I ordered from Amazon:

Both Eloise and I love pouring over this book, learning what host plants we need for butterflies to lay eggs on our plants, and what plants will get those butterflies to our yard for lunch.

We ordered our butterfly "castle" from this website: The Butterfly Website. The castles are not very expensive at all and will allow you to place an entire plant inside it, view the butterflies more clearly, and clean it more easily.

So, in conclusion!  Get this book or one like it. Get a butterfly house/castle. Plant nectar plants and host plants. And wait.

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