Thousands of people become interested in butterflies and moths
each year. Collecting, mounting, and identifying specimens is done by
many. Some people gather and rear caterpillars. They follow one
insect throughout its short and fascinating life history. They often make
detailed observations and notes and take many photographs of just one species.
This can lead to new discoveries that data on many species are lacking,
especially on the larvae. Collecting lepidoptera is allowed almost
anywhere, with the exception of in national parks. Private property also
needs to be respected. Ask for permission before trying to collect on
other people's property, many people will grant you permission as long as you
promise not to trample their flowers.
It is essential to collect butterflies and moths if you want to study them.
Adults can usually be caught while they feed on flowers or bait. They are
rarely caught while flying. Usually, the new specimen is put into a
killing jar and is later mounted, spread, labeled, and cataloged. By
rearing caterpillars you will get better specimens and will learn a lot in the process. They can be found on plants as they chew leaves. Leaves
that have been chewed is a sign that there are caterpillars present. Some
feed only at night and many feed on the underside of leaves. Larvae are
easily reared in large cans. Each kind of larva should be kept in a
separate can. Give them the kind of leaves they were feeding on when they
were found. Put only a few larvae in each can and do not stuff the can
with leaves. The can should be cleaned daily and fresh leaves should be
added as needed. The easiest ones to rear are the species which create
cocoons. Caterpillars will pupate on twigs or on the bottom of the can.
Pupae need some moisture to survive but should not be wet. They can be
stored in containers with a layer of moist soil or moist peat moss at the bottom
The pupa should be put in a cage when movement and change in appearance
indicates that the adult is about to emerge. You can make one about a foot
in diameter from a rolled section of wire screen or 1/4 inch hardware cloth.
A variety of sizes to meet all your needs can be quickly, cheaply, and easily
made. Keeping caged females outside might attract males. If a male
is added to her cage he will mate with the female
and fertilize her eggs. Most females that are caught outdoors have
already mated. Butterflies and moths that feed as adults will lay eggs
over a longer period of time. Some of these species will die laying eggs
if not given the proper food plant.
Eggs can be kept in small plastic or glass containers or in flat tins.
The tops should fit tightly so that the tiny larvae cannot escape when they
hatch. Fresh foods then are promptly needed.
Butterflies and Moths: A Guide to the more common American Species by Robert T. Mitchell and Herbert S. Zim