How to hand-raise your very own butterfly
First you will need to find a butterfly egg.  
This photo shows a Black Swallowtail egg
on a
fennel plant.  This species of butterfly
will also lay eggs on dill, parsley, carrots
and Queen Anne's Lace.  The cream
colored egg is round and very tiny, as you
can see.
The next step is to cut a piece of the plant
with the egg attached.  The female butterfly
"glues" each egg to the plant with a special
liquid her body produces.  We
never try to
pull an egg off the plant because it could get
squished or torn.
Now you will need a small clear plastic
container with a lid.  Place your piece
of plant into the container so your egg
will be protected while the caterpillar
matures inside.  Put the lid on and
keep the container indoors at room
out of direct sunlight so it
doesn't over-heat.
The egg should hatch in
about 3 - 5 days.  When
you see the tiny
caterpillar out of its egg,
snip a fresh piece of
plant and add it to your
container so the little guy
will have
fresh food.
It's very important that you keep your container clean and dry.
After a couple of days you should start to see tiny bits of
poop in the bottom of the container.  Lay down a paper towel
on a table, carefully remove the tiny caterpillar from his
container, while he is still on his leaf, and place him on the
paper towel.  If the caterpillar is clinging to the side of the
do not remove him, just work carefully around him.
Use a small craft paint brush to remove the poop from the
container ~ better get used to this step ~ .  If there is any
moisture present,
wipe the container dry.  Caterpillars can
easily get diseases from mold, fungus or viruses that may
grow quickly in a dirty, damp container.  Do this once each
day.  When you are finished cleaning, provide a f
resh piece
of host plant
and put the caterpillar back into the container.  
The caterpillar will know to crawl off the old leaf and onto the
new.  The caterpillar can remain in the small container for
several days until he starts to grow larger.
After a few days, your
caterpillar will need to be
moved to a
larger container.  
We use plastic lunch meat
containers that can often be
found at your local
dollar-store.  Cut a piece of
paper towel and line the
bottom of the container to
absorb any excess moisture.  
Provide larger pieces of fresh
host plant daily and continue to
remove old leaves, poop and
any moisture
from the sides of
the container.  Put the lid on
and keep the container at
room temperature out of direct
As your caterpillar grows, he
will require
more food daily.  
Feel free to offer leaves,
stems and even flower heads
so the little fella gets all the
vitamins and nutrients he
needs to stay healthy and
strong. Remember to use
only the specific host plant for
your species of butterfly. A
caterpillar would rather
to death
than to eat the wrong
kind of plant. Of course, the
more he eats, the more he
will poop so you may need to
clean out the container in the
morning and again in the
Your caterpillar will shed it's skin
4 or 5 times as it grows.  When
it reaches about an inch and a
half long it's time to add a
inside the container
(or keep
one in the container the whole
time). When he sheds the very
last skin, a chrysalis will be
revealed underneath, instead of
a larger caterpillar. Swallowtails
prefer to form their chrysalis
while hanging from a stick or
plant stem.  When you see the
hanging from the stick
(notice the picture to the right),
be careful not to disturb him.  
Caterpillars are very vulnerable
to injury at this stage.
Once your caterpillar spins his
silk harness and hangs from
the stick, it may take 24 hours
or more for the last skin to
shed and reveal the chrysalis
Allow another full
for the chrysalis to dry and
harden before you move it, to
avoid injury.  Now you can
remove the stick and place it in
safe place until your lovely
butterfly emerges. We like to
use mesh pop-up containers
sold by, like
the one shown at the right.
It's important that the butterfly is
able to
hang freely when it
emerges, so its wings can
expand and dry. Don't be
alarmed....when the butterfly
it will expel a red or
brown colored fluid
left over
from its metamorphosis.
This photo sequence shows the final molting (shedding the skin) of a different
Black Swallowtail caterpillar to reveal the chrysalis underneath.
Female Black Swallowtail
Side view with wings closed
Male Black Swallowtail
If your caterpillar forms its chrysalis during the spring or summer months, the butterfly should emerge
in about 10 days.  If the chrysalis was formed during the cooler autumn months, it may enter a
hibernation stage called
diapause, and remain in this form until the following spring, and must be
stored in an
unheated garage or building over the winter so it will hibernate properly.
Always wash your hands first thing to protect the health of your caterpillar !
Before the caterpillar forms its
chrysalis, it will expel the contents
of its gut and leave a wet mess in
the container...very important to
use a paper towel to absorb this.
Here is a
close-up view
of the egg
Can you see the
pattern of the
butterfly wings
showing through the
chrysalis in this last
photo?  The butterfly
will emerge soon !
You can use the larger container, and skip the small one, for the entire life cycle of the caterpillar if
you want to.  We prefer to start with a small container to give the tiny caterpillar less room to wander
around and get lost from its food.  Don't worry about ventilation holes....opening your container at
least once a day provides
plenty of fresh air for the developing caterpillar.