A New DIY (and Improved) Butterfly Castle

IMG_5073 copyI love the life cycle of the caterpillar/butterfly.  I am so lucky to be able to see this transformation every summer with the black swallowtail butterflies that lay their eggs on my parsley and dill.  I then transport the host plant (which is purposely planted in a pot) into a “butterfly castle,” which protects the caterpillars from predators (wasps and spiders).  Once the caterpillars eat their fill and mature into fat caterpillars, they then crawl around the castle and go into chrysalis (make a cocoon).  Then in about ten days, the caterpillars morph into a beautiful butterfly.  

The photo above was my original butterfly castle which I purchased from Live Monarch.  When I went to find a new butterfly castle this year, none were available anywhere on the Internet, including from Live Monarch.  I still can’t find any castles for sale.  One of the butterfly sites offered this as an option:  a collapsible clothes hamper, which worked really well for the summer.
IMG_0910LRAnd then, I found plans to make my own castle here.  I thought that would be a good option for a more permanent and stable castle.

I went to my local Home Depot in Annapolis in mid-July to get the materials to make my own castle.  Luckily, the day I went to Home Depot, Dan in the lumber department was working, and he helped me create an even better castle than the plans called for, and cut all of the pieces I need to complete my new caterpillar castle.  Dan asked me to come back and show him photos of my finished castle.

Fast forward to earlier this week.  I had 13 new caterpillar eggs on my dill and parsley, and one cocoon.  I needed a place to keep all of these future butterflies safe through the winter.

I have never had a butterfly emerge from chrysalis past mid-August.  For those caterpillars that come after mid-August, they go about their business and get to be fat caterpillars and go into chrysalis in the castle, and spend the winter in chrysalis for about nine months until mid-May, and then emerge as beautiful butterflies (most of the time — some of the cocoons don’t survive the winter).  This process fascinates me each and every time.

imageOn Thursday, I got out all of the lumber Dan cut for me from Home Depot and began constructing my own castle with the help of my Mom, who came to visit for a couple of days.  She was instrumental in helping me get this project off the ground by holding pieces in place while I screwed them into place.imageThis project was only supposed to take a couple of hours.  However, I got a couple of bright ideas to enhance my project, such as adding a hinged top to be able to open and close so it would be easier to put in and take out host caterpillar plants.  And then to be able to latch the top closed so that nothing could get in to harm the caterpillars.


The bottom of the castle is on top and the frame is on the bottom.image

Now, the bottom is where it should be and I have placed a screen on three sides.

imageimageOn the fourth side, I cut a separate screen to fit that side, and added velcro to the sides of the castle and to the screen and secured it into place.  This way, if I needed to access the plants or caterpillars, I had an easy way to get to them.image

Here is my finished caterpillar castle.  I can honestly say “I did it myself.”  (Except Mom helped some).

I also decided to add hinges to the top for easy access.

imageWhen the top is opened, there is velcro and a screen attached for extra added protection from predators.

And yesterday morning, don’t you know, the most amazing thing was awaiting me inside this new castle:

imageimageI was positive this cocoon wouldn’t produce a butterfly until next spring.  I have never had a chrysalis produce a butterfly this late in the season, September 5.

imageNow I have at least 12 caterpillars in the new and improved castle.  This will be a great experiment to see how many make it through the winter, and emerge as beautiful butterflies in the spring.




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One Comment

  1. Marlene September 6, 2015 at 6:29 am #

    Great job Kathy. Can’t wait to see how many butterflies emerge. Keep us posted. Love you

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