South Florida Home Butterfly Garden

For our butterfly garden, we planted a bunch of Milkweed plants. We were fortunate enough to have tons of fat Monarch caterpillars on each plant. They came like that straight from this amazing nursery that we go to (Abell’s Nursery). They don’t spray pesticides. There are always butterflies fluttering around their plants.

After planting the milkweed, we counted 25 monarch caterpillars. There were most likely more since they hang under the leaves to eat. I was thrilled to watch these caterpillars much on the leaves. Their size indicated that they were within hours or days of forming their chrysalis.

Later that day, we went to check out the caterpillars. We noticed a large wasp hovering around the plants. Then, to our horrifying surprise, the wasp stung one of the caterpillars. White liquid squirted from the caterpillar and within a minute, the wasp had devoured the entire caterpillar. I was very upset and feared that the wasp would eat more of them. I thought about creating a cage around the plants to keep the wasps out, but we were busy that day and we went about our errands.

A few hours later, we returned home to find absolutely NO caterpillars on the milkweed plants. NOT ONE! I was heartbroken. These huge caterpillars only had a few days until they formed their chrysalis. At that point, I decided that I would start a little caterpillar nursery so that I could raise a few without wasp interference. Online, they sell pop-up mesh butterfly cases for $15.00 and up (plus shipping). I decided I couldn’t wait, so I went to Target and bought a pop-up mesh hamper and 3 milkweed plants.

The monarch butterflies definitely are laying eggs on our milkweed plants. I have already put 5 small caterpillars into the nursery. We released our second butterfly from the nursery this morning, and we have two that formed their chrysalis and the rest are still munching. Two have managed to disappear from spiders. I guess you can’t stop nature.

Here is a picture of my creation:

Home Made Butterfly Nursery

11 Responses to “Make Your Own Butterfly Nursery / Butterfly Cage”
  1. 1
    Jennifer Wallace Says:
    3:47 pm

    I wanted to write to give you a big “THANK YOU”! I have recently started to “baby-sit” my small flock of monarch butterflies. Today, I witnessed the devastation of some local wasps on my monarchs larvae. I lost three fat bodies this morning alone!
    I will construct my own nursery based on you easy and inventive model. I have my first chrysallis ready to open in 3 or so days!
    Thank you for having this website and keep your posts up to date so we can follow your progress!
    Brandon, Florida

  2. 2
    Andria Says:
    10:17 am

    How exciting! I hope your butterfly cage is working out well for you. It should definitely help out with the wasps. In a recent visit to the Lukas Nursery & Butterfly Encounter in Oviedo FL, I found out that the netting on my little hamper-style cage is not sufficient to keep out parasites that might harm the caterpillars. If you start to see problems with their development, you might want to order a better netting for your cage (see below for the link to one website).

    Another issue that I had was that as my caterpillars started their journey climbing to the top of the cage, the wasps would land on the side of the cage and would sting them and kill them through the material…just when I thought I had it all worked out! Since then, I tend to move the cage inside once they get big enough to form their chrysalis.

    I have recently seen a number of different types of butterfly netting and cages/Terrariums. Some very interesting ones that allow you to still place potted plants inside are found at the following website:

    I look forward to hearing more about your little guys!

    Best of luck to you!

  3. 3
    Jane Says:
    3:54 pm

    We’ve noticed the wasps attacking the cats too. We also watched a red wasp waiting and watching a butterfly emerge from the chrys. and try to get her!! I went crazy with the fly swatter. Not that God needs any help raising His butterflies, but we too have taken to using large terrariums to raise them. Be sure to keep your terrariums cleaned and sanitized. There is a virus of sorts going around down here in Houston and many are dying as they ‘j’ or as they try to molt the skin off for the chrys. to come out. We’ve had several even turn transparent then never come out of their cocoon.
    These happenings have been over a year and between two different yards, but we’ve both experienced this kind of thing.

  4. 4
    Jane Says:
    11:50 am

    Hi, we have released four butterflies over the past two days and have eight chrysallis in the cage. Thanks for your information. Just ordered two more cages so we can clean out our current one. Am having trouble finding plants that are pesticide-free, but think I found a garden center here locally that states their plants have never been sprayed. We may decide to order through the website you suggested. Can hardly wait for the swallowtails to come through Houston. So far no eggs on all of our dill, fennel, parsley or rue.

  5. 5
    Diana Fendley Says:
    3:31 pm

    I have read this article with great interest. Thinking about raising butterflies myself. As far as the hamper idea for the butterfly habitat. I was wondering if there is a way to have a slightly smaller one inside of a larger one so that the wasps can’t sting the climbing catepillars through the netting. I’m going to see if i can rig something up. You could probably make your own of of very fine fabric mesh, like they use for bridal veils. I know it come in some different mesh widths, with some of it being very fine, and not expensive at all. If I have success at making one I’ll post how I made it.

  6. 6
    Jane Says:
    11:55 am

    Hi again.
    My question this time is regarding black swallowtail butterflies.
    Inside of our terrarium are three large pots of fennel and dill and about 12 HUGE ‘cats’ I’m sure will soon be ready to go i nto their chrys. Since they attach themselves at both ends, should I have a type of frame or branch in there onto which they can attach? Or will they just wander to the side of a pot or to the top like so many of our monarchs did?
    Also, I am getting ready to scrub down one of our terrariums. Am using regular Dawn detergent because since the vet recommends that for very tiny kittens who have fleas (the Dawn actually will kill the fleas and not hurt the kittens) I figured it would be good the the gunk in the cage. What type of bleach solutioni should I use, or should I?
    We purchased our cages from the website you mentioned below.
    Thanks so very much.
    Jane M

  7. 7
    NEOrlando Says:
    12:20 pm

    Repetitious scenario of many newly-hatched tiny caterpillars then NONE.
    I blame the many lizards.
    Wasps now are few (many early this summer).

    My thought is to wrap netting around vines’ branch tips where eggs are.
    Your reactions to that idea?

  8. 8
    Cheryl Piemonte Says:
    7:48 am

    Raising butterflies is one of my passions too. I have been raising them now for 17 years. I love watching them grow, making their cocoons and, being able to release them. I had a butterfly cage for 3 years until it disintegrated.

    That was a clever idea of using the hamper as a butterfly cage but, I also understand about the screen holes being to big. I had a problem with tiny red ants and, my screen holes were very small.

    Glad I found your website. Will be checking back. Will be replanting my milkweed soon as the freeze we had really affected all my plants this year. I haven’t seen a butterfly for two months due to no flowers in my garden. That is sad.

  9. 9
    Pam McMillan Says:
    12:05 am

    I just ran across your website, as I am looking for some kind of cage to build that I can transport easily to schools for showing. I have raised Monarchs for about five years now, and this past butterfly season in CA (May 09-Mar 10)-147 have been raised and let go. I like to keep a monthly tally on the males and females. The way I have always raised them is– as soon as a caterpillar hatches, I bring it in the house on that clipping (important to immediately put the clipping into water, otherwise it will wilt). The clippings are kept in a 20 oz water/coke bottle and many baby caterpillars can share the clipping until they get bigger-then they get their own bottle/clipping. After their final shedding, they have about 3 more days until they make their chrysalis. Once they leave the plant (and some don’t)but if they do, I put them in an upright shoebox (with the clipping) and keep the box opening sealed with a flat piece of cardboard. Once they are hanging (at the top of the shoebox)I can leave off the shoebox “door”. This has been a very enjoyable hobby witnessing God’s creation of these wonderful insects and I am happy to have found other butterfly lovers-especially Monarchs. I also raise Gulf Fritterlaries on the Passion Vine (but only outside and at our previous house: Giant Swallowtails.

  10. 10
    Kimberley Says:
    8:25 pm

    I really like the laundry basket idea. I may try it out next season.

    I made a hanging butterfly home out of 2 embroidery hoops, 2 cardboard circles (from a local pizza place), and some mesh from a fabric store. The cardboard was glued to the center hoop, then the mesh was wrapped around it & overlapped before attaching the outer hoop. Repeat on the bottom. I used twist ties to close up the top & bottom outside,(Looks like a tootsie roll) then hung it from the ceiling. I used this in my classroom for several years since the professional ones are expensive. Our larvae were kept in small aquariums with paper towel on top. When they made their chrysalises, I simply cut the paper towel & pinned it to the butterfly enclosure.

    Once hatched, we simply name them & release. The monarch population in the area has signifcantly increased. Just thought I’d share another cage alternative.

  11. 11
    Julie Says:
    1:53 pm

    I found a Monarch Caterpillar week before last on a milkweed in my front garden. I actually had no idea what kind of caterpillar it was until I looked it up on the internet. Fortunately, I have seen on NOVA that monarchs are going extinct. My mom and a few other friends also plant milkweed and have butterfly gardens. So I brought him in, but in a big fat vase and cut up a pair of my pantyhose to cover the top. He went into his Pupa on 8/19 and emerged as a spectacular, large monarch yesterday afternoon. Unfortunately, his wings broke. I watched the video from the other butterfly site on how to fix them, but was unable to. He just died about 30 mins ago. However, I now have the mesh hamper, and also found another caterpillar last week, plucked the milkweed leaf he was on and low and behold, there was a teeny tiny baby on the same leaf! I still have two Pupas , one I expect to hatch tomorrow (day 10) and the other, later this week. The baby was doing great, growing like crazy! But since last night his just kind of laying there, barely moving, slowly rolling, like he is dying. I’m not sure if this is normal and he is getting ready to for his first shedding (he’s about an inch long now) or if he is in fact dying. The vase was carefully sterilized and completely dried out. I get all his poop out everyday and everyday he get’s a fresh milkweed leaf.. Not sure what is going one. I’m new to all of this, so any insight and advice you can offer is greatly appreciated. I live in MI, about a half hour from the Ohio boarder. I live on a 10 acre farm. Thanks for your help.

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