Category Archives: Raising Moths and Butterflies

Raising Butterflies: Grey Hairstreak Hatching

Let’s play: is that a random spec of dirt, or the precious caterpillar you collected?

Well, it twitched. I guess it’s a caterpillar.

It’s been three days since I collected the grey hairstreak eggs, and they both hatched. The folks at BAMONA say that grey hairstreak caterpillars eat the flowers, not the leaves. I put both flowers and leaves in with the hatchlings. I’m hoping they don’t wander away from their food. The containers are big enough they could walk off and starve. It also says the caterpillar can be cannibalistic – caterpillar cannibalism doesn’t seem to be a conscious thing so much as they won’t stop eating a leaf just because there’s another caterpillar on it. Either way, the two caterpillars are in separate containers.

At this stage, they’re smaller than ants, so I have to use a fine paintbrush if I want to move them. Speaking of ants, in the wild, hairstreak caterpillars are attended by ants. The ants tend to them, and in exchange the hairstreak produces a nectary substance for them. No ants here, unless you count in the kitchen.

Raising Butterflies: Grey Hairstreak Eggs

I paused to take a photo of a Grey Hairstreak when it fluttered in. They’re not terribly rare, but they’re erratic fliers and hard to get a picture of. I call them “seizure butterflies”, because when they’re flying they look like they’re having a seizure.

She didn’t look terribly good. She wasn’t battered, like a lot of older butterflies, but she was very sluggish – especially compared to how skittish these butterflies normally are. She’d slowly crawl from one flower to another, occasionally sipping at one. Imagine my surprise when I spotted her curling her abdomen as if to oviposit. She wound up drunkenly dragging her abdomen across leaves before giving up, more often than not. But she did manage to lay two eggs that I could spot.

Here’s one, tucked away in the tender new leaves.

Here’s the other, a tiny speck of green in a flower cup.

A male skipper chased her off soon afterward, so no more eggs. Still, hoping to rear the two I have.

Here is the plant she was laying on. I have no idea what it is. Grey Hairstreak caterpillars will apparently host on all sorts of different plants. I placed them in a plastic cup with a paper towel over the top, held on with a rubber band. We’ll see how long it takes them to hatch.

Rearing Fiery Skippers: Getting the Skippers

Lookit that little face.

For those like me who are interested in raising these little guys (and can’t find anything online on how), here is a guide on rearing them into adulthood. I suspect they’re overlooked by hobbyists because they’re small and mothy-looking, but I like them for a variety of reasons:

-They’re adorable
-They’re very common in the warmer states.
-They’re low maintenance.
-They’re very easy to find within their range, even in the city.
-The larvae eat grass, so you can almost certainly feed them.
-They’re small and don’t take up much space.

Of course, to raise them, you need to obtain some. The larvae are very sneaky and hide in the grass, so it’s “easier” to go after the eggs. To get the eggs, first look for the skippers. The adults eat nectar, but the eggs need to be put on grass, so look for lawn greens with lots of flowers nearby.

Yeah, that looks nice.

Keep an eye out, and if there are skippers, you’ll see them flitting around. They prefer warm, sunny days, so keep that in mind when you go looking. The males like to stay in the flowers, and you’ll see them flying after anything else that flies: females, other males, I’ve ever seen them try to attack hummingbirds and wasps. I’m not sure how butterfly fights work when the insects are physically incapable of harming anything, but I guess when something flies in your face you’re thinking less about that and more about “Agh what jeez get out of my face!!!”

Here’s one playing king of the hill. They like to perch on rocks, bark, and flowers and sun themselves. They’re known for holding their wings in the “fighter jet position”, which makes people mistakenly believe they’re moths. They are actually in the butterfly family.
If you spot the males flitting about, the females are likely about too. They will be feeding off flowers, but on occasion they will fly down and hide in the grass.

It takes some practice to tell a male from a female – the tops of a female’s wings are more brown than those of a male, but you’re likely better off using behavioral cues.

There are two methods to getting the eggs. First, you can net or grab the females and plop them in a cage with some grass for her to lay eggs on. The female can be fed with sugar water, honey solution, or potted flowers. I haven’t tried this method, so I can’t say if the female becomes too agitated to lay her eggs when captured. They certainly don’t like it.

The second method is to follow the female and collect her eggs when she lays them. Bring a small container with you to put the eggs in. A pair of scissors to cut the grass will also help you out. Watch for her to land in the grass and curl her abdomen. The females like to rest and hide in the grass, but a curled abdomen means she’s trying to place an egg.

It takes some practice to get up close. Sometimes the girls are amazingly tame, sometimes they’re incredibly skittish. Move slowly, and try not to let your shadow fall over them – that startles them. It helps to lower your profile as much as possible, by kneeling or crawling in the grass. Warning: your knees and dignity will never forgive you.

The trick is to try and see what blade of grass she places the egg on. If you look very closely in the above picture, you can see the green egg at the tip of her abdomen (though this is abnormal). The females like to place the egg on the underside of the leaf. Whatever you do, don’t look away – there are a million blades of grass, and if you take your eyes off the spot, you’re never going to find it again.

When the female finishes ovipositing (fancy term for “egg-laying”), she’ll fly off to lay another egg elsewhere. Then you can move in to snatch your prize:

Tiny, isn’t it? This is why the eggs are nearly impossible to find without stalking the female, and even then, it helps to have a keen eye. Snip the blade of grass off with your scissors and put it into your container, then repeat the cycle. It can be hard to spot the female butterfly again once you’ve taken your eye off her to collect the eggs. It may be helpful to have a spotter helping you: one person collects eggs, the other watches the butterfly. If you’re searching on a small lawn area, she will likely have landed nearby, but if you startle her she’ll run off and hide for a while. Wait a while and she will likely come back.
Warning:┬áRandom people who aren’t paying attention will walk by and startle the butterflies, ruining everything.

Now, there may be occasions when you’ll go in to look, and be unable to find the egg. This is usually due to one of two reasons:
-The egg is tiny and you just can’t find it. Make sure to check the underside of the grass blade, and try looking on nearby glass blades.
-The female was startled or had too much trouble ovipositing, and flew off without laying an egg.
If you see a female with an egg stuck to her abdomen, it means something went wrong during ovipoisiting, and the egg is blocking her from laying any more. She’s not going to lay again, so find a different butterfly.

Here they are nice and cozy, in their new home. In truth, they don’t even need a container this big, but it was what I had on hand. The eggs need air, so the paper towel on top allows breathing. A clear plastic or glass container is better, as then you can see when they’ve hatched. I put a little piece of moistened paper in there to keep the humidity up. I don’t know if its necessary, but it doesn’t hurt. Just make sure it’s not directly on the eggs, and that it doesn’t become too moist – the eggs are vulnerable to mold.

The skippers prefer warmer temperatures, close to 80 F. The warmer it is, the faster they’ll hatch. The eggs take 3-6 days to hatch, so watch carefully. Don’t put any grass in with them yet, it might asphyxiate the eggs. The leaves they came on should be fine, but no more. They’ll need to eat soon after hatching, however, so keep a close eye on them.