Raising caterpillars from eggs

While caterpillar care varies somewhat between species, the following are general directions for all the species we raise and offer for sale.
  • On receiving, put eggs into a small (2 cup or so) container and seal with lid.  This will protect eggs from the dryness of inside air.  Never put leaves into a sealed container with eggs. (Vapor released by the vegetation will smother the eggs.
  • Check container daily.  Keep out of direct sunlight.  Depending on species and indoor temperatures, eggs will take 7-14 days to hatch after laying.  So with shipping time added in, eggs will hatch fairly quickly.  Signs that eggs are getting close to hatching: butterfly eggs typically darken, sphinx moth eggs also change color, silkmoth eggs typically develop a small dent on their side.
  • After hatching, carefully move larvae individually with a soft paint brush onto cut leaves in a sealed container.  Only a few leaves are needed initially.
  • Leaves: try to offer two or three varieties (from the suggested hostplant species) to see what the caterpillars prefer, and then stick with whichever type they start feeding on.  
  • Caterpillars may wander for up to 24 hours before settling down to feed.  This is normal.  Just make sure you have the right food for them.  Also, there should be enough food in the container that things are not crammed packed, but not so empty that caterpillars have to walk a long way to foodplant.  It's a balancing act.  Leaves touching all four sides of the container loosely is a good thing.
  • Vent container twice daily to make sure moisture doesn't build up. 
  • Every two to three days, move the caterpillars to new food in a clean container.  Keeping things clean is super important.
  • When changing leaves, cut the leaf around the caterpillar and move the leaf part to the new food, leaving the caterpillar in place.  The caterpillar will move to the new food when it's ready.
  • After the second skin shedding, if possible move caterpillars to cut foodplant in water and an airy mesh tent or sleeve outside on live plants.  This will help with disease prevention. (For some species, because of the foodplant, this may not be possible and you'll have to keep them in a container.) 
  • For cut foodplant, make sure all access to the water is sealed with paper towels or something similar.  Caterpillars love to descend the branch and drown themselves in the water if it's left open.
  • Keep this process up until larvae start walking around looking for a place to pupate.  Expect larvae to clean out their digestive tract before this stage. (This basically means a huge messy bowel movement, rather than the dry star-shaped nuggets they normally create.)
  • "Walkers" needs vary. See chart below. 
Species

Egg hatch time @ 70 F

Food plants "Walker" needs for pupation Time to adulthood
Oregon Swallowtail 7 days parsley family, tarragon  paper bag, pupation pod, or sticks inside habitat 2-3 weeks after pupation, or overwinter
Two-tailed Swallowtail 7 days chokecherry, ash paper bag, pupation pod, or sticks inside habitat usually overwinters
Western Tiger Swallowtail 7 days willow, black cottonwood, maple, aspen, sycamore paper bag, pupation pod, or sticks inside habitat usually overwinters
Anise Swallowtail 7 days parsley family paper bag, pupation pod, or sticks inside habitat 2-3 weeks after pupation, or overwinter
Ceanothus silkmoth 10-14 days willow, chokecherry, ceanothus, and many others paper bag with leaves overwinters
Polyphemus silkmoth 10-14 days

willow, birch, oak, apple, and others

paper bag with leaves overwinters if light cycle is correct
White-lined Sphinx moth 7 days grape, virginia creeper, four o'clock, evening primrose, fireweed, and others earth pupater: soil in the bottom of the container or a container with crumpled newspaper in a dark place  2-3 weeks after pupation, or overwinters if light cycle is correct
Five-spotted Sphinx moth 7 days nightshade family, including tomato and potato earth pupater: soil in the bottom of the container or a container with crumpled newspaper in a dark place 2-3 weeks after pupation, or overwinters if light cycle is correct
Western-eyed Sphinx moths 10-14 days varieties of willow and black cottonwood earth pupater: soil in the bottom of the container or a container with crumpled newspaper in a dark place 2-3 weeks after pupation, or overwinters if light cycle is correct

Big Poplar Sphinx

10-14 days willow and black cottonwood earth pupater: soil in the bottom of the container or a container with crumpled newspaper in a dark place overwinters