Caterpillars and Chrysalides

Caterpillar food plants will summon egg-laying female butterflies to your yard. Then, if sharp-eyed, you may find the minute eggs. More likely you’ll find the caterpillars.

August 17, 2017 | | Notes from the Wild

My last blog celebrated the beauty of chrysalides – objects of wonder that beg to be photographed. A search for them will almost certainly come up empty. Chrysalides are simply too well concealed.

Much easier is rearing caterpillars in your yard. In time they will form their exquisite chrysalides right under your nose. Caterpillar food plants will summon egg-laying female butterflies to your yard. Then, if sharp-eyed, you may find the minute eggs. More likely you’ll find the caterpillars. When you do, it is important to protect them quickly. Caterpillars are choice prey for legions of insects and birds.

A simple way to do this is to cover them with mesh – I use paint straining bags available from paint and wallpaper stores – and tie them off at the plant stem. Thus protected from predators, the caterpillars will pupate in two weeks or so.

For monarch butterflies, of course, the larval fare is milkweed. Two excellent garden-worthy milkweeds are the visually stunning butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) and the tall, liqueur-scented swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata).  Both like as much sun as possible, with the butterfly milkweed favouring drier soils and the marsh milkweed, as befits its name, moister soils.

Not surprisingly, the more milkweed you can grow the better, but it’s also important to provide nectar plants. The milkweeds themselves fit the bill, but ambrosia for monarch butterflies is the nectar of Liatris ligulistylis, a prairie native I’ve recently come to know and love.  The flowers of this plant are monarch magnets. And any females drawn to its nectar will likely lay eggs on your milkweed.

monarch butterfly egg monarch caterpillar on butterfly milkweed monarch butterfly on liatris ligulistylis tiger swallowtail egg black swallowtail caterpillar on dill giant swallowtail caterpillar on rue
<
>
Monarch caterpillar on butterfly milkweed.

Other butterflies will also come to your garden if offered their larval food plants. Rue is great for both giant swallowtails and black swallowtails. Black swallowtails will also lay their eggs on plants in the carrot family such as dill, fennel and parsley.

And though chrysalides are beautiful, the opportunity to experience the whole wondrous butterfly life-cycle is also to be cherished.

About the Author More by Don Scallen

Don Scallen enjoys sharing his love of nature through his writing and presentations. Check out his blog "Notes from the Wild".

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

By posting a comment you agree that IN THE HILLS magazine has the legal right to publish, edit or delete all comments for use both online or in print. You also agree that you bear sole legal responsibility for your comments, and that you will hold IN THE HILLS harmless from the legal consequences of your comment, including libel, copyright infringement and any other legal claims. Any comments posted on this site are NOT the opinion of IN THE HILLS magazine. Personal attacks, offensive language and unsubstantiated allegations are not allowed. Please report inappropriate comments to vjones@inthehills.ca.