Raising South Dakota Butterflies

Before deciding to raise butterflies in your home be sure you are well equipped for the task with these helpful hints from our experienced staff!

Butterflies have four life stages.

Butterfly: egg > caterpillar > chrysalis > butterfly!

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egg > caterpillar > chrysalis > butterfly

Each butterfly has a specific host plant! This is the plant where they lay their eggs and their caterpillars eat. Here is a list of popular South Dakota butterflies and their host plant equivalents!

Here are our tips & tricks to successfully raise a butterfly from tiny egg to beautiful butterfly!

  1. Observe native host plants for butterfly eggs or caterpillars! Collect them by plucking the leaf they are occupying. Be careful not to damage the egg or caterpillar by picking the leaf from the stem!
  2. Once you have collected your eggs, place them in a small container with a damp towel! The humidity and warmth will allow your tiny caterpillar to emerge! Most caterpillars emerge in 3-4 days.
  3. As your caterpillars begin to emerge they will first eat their egg shell! Keep an eye out within your container for very small caterpillars, roughly the size of a pinhead! Place them (and their leaf) in a separate container with little to no holes. If you have large gaps your teeny caterpillars may escape!
  4. Promptly provide your caterpillars with one fresh leaf each! You will want to change out their leaves each day,
  5. Line the bottom of your container with clean paper towels! And be sure to change them out every day. This provides a healthy and clean environment.
  6. Your caterpillars will go through five instars, meaning they will shed their skin five times before being full-grown! As your caterpillars grow, their food intake will grow as well! So be sure to provide plenty of fresh food throughout each instar.
  7. Once your caterpillar is fully grown, it will move to the top of your container to pupate! They will begin their change into a chrysalis by hanging from a silk thread.
  8. Most butterflies will take 10-15 days to emerge from their chrysalis. During this time there is nothing you need to do except monitor them and wait!
  9. Once your butterflies emerge be sure to give them plenty of time to dry their wings before releasing them. This usually takes about 2 hours.
  10. After their wings have dried they are ready to be released! Release your butterfly in an area with plenty of healthy, native flowers!

Some butterflies, like the black swallowtail, will overwinter in their chrysalis. If you find it is late September and your butterfly still has not emerged, be sure to move your container into a cool, dry place (ex: an unheated garage or sunroom). This will discourage your butterfly from emerging in the winter months. Also keep an eye on your butterflies once a month to make sure they are still doing good. Once Spring begins, check your chrysalides daily.

If you have any other questions that weren’t answered above, feel free to email us at education@sdaquarium.org

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