Figured I might as well ask this since it’s a relatively cost efficient and fascinating hobby with relatively few members. I started about 2 months ago and have become hooked. So far some of my more notable species are 16 trabala vishnou caterpillars, 6 death’s head hawkmoth pupae and some calleta silkmoth eggs but the obsession is ever growing.
I did this during my last extended stay in the Dominican Republic. I even got a couple of iNaturalist observations.
These Tiger Mimic-queen caterpillars were collected after I took this picture and raised to adulthood. I have non-iNaturalist pictures of their chrysalides and imagoes, too, which I used in a blog article on Mullerian mimicry.
I raised a lot of Hyalurga vinosa caterpillars to either adulthood or death as part of a study that resulted in a paper in Tropical Lepidoptera Research. (I am sure that I used to have a book that gave “harlequin moth” as a common name for these, which is why I added the name to iNaturalist; but the book that I thought it was doesn’t have this species in it. I will have to keep looking.)
Finally, it was only within the past month that I was finally able to upload and identify this observation of Cryptobotys zoilusalis from a heavy infestation on Eleutheranthera ruderalis. This is not one of its known host plants, although it is in the right family, as its known host plants are Asteraceae as well. I raised many of these, collecting data on survival to adulthood, eclosure of parasitoids, or death. I am considering putting together a paper on this one, too, since everything I found on Google Scholar was just regional checklists that said, “Yup, it was here.”
Interesting species, those Lycorea are absolutely stunning. The Danainae are a fascinating group but one which I can never tell which is which ( thought thankfully it’s not something I need to do anytime soon since the only species that visits the UK and surrounding Countries are monarchs as an extremely rare vagrant.
It’s something I’ve been thinking of getting into this year.
I recommend giving it a go. depending on your area there can be some pretty fascinating species to raise that can be collected for free with few requirements. I know that polyphemus moths are pretty common throughout the US and are supposedly quite rewarding as well as various hawkmoths and even generally less interesting species like Noctuids and Geometrids which I have tried before and are virtually bulletproof
I used to. I raised various eastern US Saturnids: cecropia, luna, polyphemus, promethea, io.
In discussing with others who raise moths in other parts of the country it becomes readily clear that initial efforts are best focused on local moths. For example, cecropia are stupid easy to raise in NE, but those out west who try have a lot of problems; similarly, when I tried western species I also had a high failure rate. A lot has to do with temperature and humidity and specific host species impacting the health (or, rather, lack of) leaving the larvae susceptible to illness.
Fabricated foods (liquidamber) have made it a lot easier, as many Saturnids and Sphingids will readily consume it.
Butterflies are more of a challenge, and often have to be hand-paired to mate.
We did this at school!
A teacher bought a package with eggs, caterpillars and pupa of Pieris rapae that was send by post. The children and teachers fed the caterpillars organic kale, watched the eggs turn into caterpillars and saw the butterflies hatch. The children let them out carefully using the correct butterfly handling technique that teachers taught them. Cleaning and letting out the butterflies was a shared responsibility within a classroom, and the terrarium with them rotated to a new class every so often. In the weekends a student brought the terrarium home and cared for them. It was a terrific experience for all involved!
Oh yes! I raised my first saddleback when I was seven and very afraid of caterpillars. I have had some painted ladies at one point, and a tiger swallowtail. I mostly raise monarchs each summer now. Can you order eggs? that could be fun to try.
I tried raising pieris a few years ago ( they were the first caterpillars I had ever tried keeping) and they are impressively simple to raise. When I caught mine I grew them in a pickle jar with holes and managed to hatch out a few adults, the only real issue is that wild caught larvae are prone to having parasitoid wasps. The tuition centre I go to did something similar with painted ladies as well which was rather successful.
I don’t know how it is in the US but in Britain and the surrounding areas eggs of various species are readily available at an affordable price to to order online from specialist retailers and eBay breeders. The calletas silkmoths are the only ones where i’ve ordered eggs but they have started hatching today though the main thing with lepidoptera eggs ( especially my calletas) is that they are more finicky at a younger stage and prone to infection. Maybe next year i’ll try order some Aporia crataegi ( a now extinct species in the British Isles) to try growing them out.
This is a wonderful experience for kids. My daughter’s teacher handed out 10 silk moth eggs to each child in the class. The period was difficult though. We took the eggs with us for the Xmas holidays and they hatched out during the car trip. I found myself scouring the local UK suburbs in the pitch black trying to steal some twigs of privet to feed them with. Only one reached moth stage but my kids were enthralled.
I also raise local species. I collect caterpillars that I can identify for certain and raise them at home. It’s really fun. The success rate has been very good. Even individuals of the same species seem to have personalities and sometimes even food preferences if the species is polyphagous. I guess I spoil them by always offering a variety of leaves at all times. I have also built them cardboard hiding spots, and I attach some of the leaves to hang on strings. There are also some pieces of bark to hide under. Some moth caterpillars like spending the day there and coming out when it gets dark. There are also sticks to crawl and attach a chrysalis to. On the bottom of the box, there is soil for some to pupate in. I make sure I remove frass daily to prevent disease and mould. Some caterpillars like drinking water droplets. I haven’t uploaded any photos of them because they don’t really count as wild while being raised. When they come out as adults or when the caterpillars are fully grown and ready to prepare for overwintering, I either let them fly out of the window or bring them back to where they came from. They make nice pets but as any other animal, they need time and care. Depending on the species, you might be able to tame them, and they would just crawl on your fingers and munch a leaf in your palm. Just make sure that you have access to the food plant which is guaranteed to be free of chemicals. Some will come with internal parasites, which you can’t predict until they get sick. One of mine had external parasites that were removed with plastic tweezers VERY carefully. I didn’t know how long it had until the next skin change. There’s always the risk when raised indoors, you could possibly make a mistake that would harm or kill them, but thinking about all the danger that they face in nature, I’d say that they get a much better chance of survival in captivity.
Your set-up sounds really fun. Could you upload a photo or two in this topic?
I’ve had different setups, but I don’t have good photos of them. This is a leaf hanging from a structure of three skewer sticks tied together (and smoothed edges). That’s easy to imagine how to make.
The last cardboard structure that was in use was like a table. There were strings for hanging leaves, too. Someone explain why one of the caterpillars was very much into soft things…
Could you take a photo or two some time later? I would like to see it!
I’m afraid I’ve disassembled it already, sorry! I released my last caterpillar for this season back in September, and I had to dig out of the soil several pupae for overwintering. Winter comes early in the Nordics. Also, several times, I left their favourite tree barks when I let them out, and then I would build a new landscape for the next inhabitants. I have loads of photos of the caterpillars but not of their whole home. I don’t know how I missed doing that.
This little one had ended up in a fun situation where another knot grass moth caterpillar crawled up the cardboard structure, and ate almost the whole leaf, leaving just a bare stalk and the very tip where this one was holding on to. It was hilarious watching a timelapse of them.
I’ve had four caterpillars at the same time at most. They were in a small transparent plastic bucket, I believe 3-4 litres in volume. I cut out most of the lid and glued a piece of mosquito net for ventilation. Most of them weren’t really trying to escape except for the first couple of days. Then they learn that everything is available - there are hiding spots, some places to crawl, an infinite food supply, water droplets, etc. I’ve only had three escapes after forgetting to close the lid. This one in the picture had hidden itself really well in a cardboard box in the living room. It took me hours of constant searching to find it. The other two were easy to spot.
Next season then!
I also raise caterpillars, as I have mentioned in other threads. I’m curious, where do you get your insects from?
I get a lot of native caterpillars from when I’m in my garden or going for walks although at this time of year its mainly noctuid caterpillars which I recently found out have cannibalistic tendencies so all of the ones I had kept eating each other. The majority of my non native species are supplied from various eBay sellers although depending on if I want to significantly increase my current stock in future years I’ll look into specialist sites like Bugs and Butterflies or WWB ( particularly when I want to try to source some rosy maple moths around June). I’m also looking into luring some wild male moths by having some of my native females in a pheromone cage around spring-summer but this is mostly just to get Inat observations of moths that rarely visit my moth trap. Then there’s my project of catching native hawkmoths and experimenting with hybrids but this is still in the works. Another good website ( for non moth inverts) is bugzuk and i’ve gotten tarantulas from there with good success.