One of the highlights of our summer is raising monarch butterflies. Once the milkweed is knee-high, the kids begin searching for the plump striped caterpillars we’ve all come to love. If you are looking for a fun summer project, keep reading on how to raise a caterpillar. Your whole family will enjoy this!
This year I suggested we document the process from caterpillar (larva) to butterfly (adult) and my 10 year old thought that was great-as long as he was not the one to write it 😉 All of the photos were taken by him.
How to Raise A Caterpillar
Raising monarch butterflies has become a summer tradition and the excitement does not fade no matter how many times we put those plump little caterpillars in a jar and begin the process.
We have an abundance of monarchs around here and a lot of milkweed so the pictures in this post about how to raise a caterpillar show monarchs, but you can do it with any caterpillar. Simply be sure to know what they eat!
How to Keep a Caterpillar Alive in a Jar
There are many different butterfly kits available, but we are in the habit of raising monarch caterpillars in a mason jar. So, how to keep a caterpillar alive in a jar?
Start with a canning jar with holes punched into the top. This year Caleb caught 5 that were different sizes so he kept them in a box. The caterpillar will attach itself and turn into a chrysalis on the underside of the lid. Once they “hang” as we call it, you cannot remove the lid to put fresh milkweed in for those that are still munching and growing.
This is where the butterfly kits come in handy. You can get them on Amazon. They provide a lot more space to hang your chrysalis. However, they are not necessary. We just try to place caterpillars of the same size in the jars.
This guy was pretty tiny when we found him. It is amazing how quickly they grow and how much they eat. We provide fresh leaves every couple of days.
At this point, you can actually hear them munching! They poop a lot so it is a good idea to occasionally clean out the jar.
How to Raise a Caterpillar: What Do Caterpillars Eat?
We raise monarch caterpillars and they eat milkweed, but each species of caterpillar eats something different! Here are a few of the common ones, but check out The National Wildlife Federation for a complete list. Also, if you need help with caterpillar identification, check out this great website- Caterpillar Identification!
- American Painted Lady- Cudweed, Everlast
- Eastern Tiger Swallowtail- Wild black cherry, Ash, Tulip Tree, Willow, Sweet By, Basswood
- Pygmy Blue- saltbush, lamb’s quarters, pigweed
- Sulfurs- clover, peas, vetch, alfalfa, asters
How Long Does It Take for A Caterpillar to Turn Into A Butterfly
After a week or two (depending on how old it was when we found it) they will climb to the top of the jar and “hang”. The first time this happened, we thought it was dead, but it is amazing to watch.
This caterpillar escaped out of the box and “hung” on Caleb’s bookshelf. I keep reminding my son what a nice mom he has to let him have insects crawling around his room! Raising caterpillars indoors can be an adventure 🙂
This takes about 10 days (now is a good time to start on your summer reading!)
They are bright green at first and then darken a day or two before they emerge. This one is almost ready. You can see the wings.
We are yet to see one come out. No matter how often we check on it when the chrysalis is transparent, we always miss it!
The butterfly will sit here for several hours and dry its wings. We wait until it begins to flap them before taking it outside.
How to Raise a Caterpillar- It’s Your Turn!
It’s your turn now! Are you ready to try out what you learned about how to raise a caterpillar? You will not be disappointed!
P.S. Did you notice my photo bombing hen?? These chickens are as social as our dog and extremely nosy!
Want more fun summer ideas? Check out these posts!