Overwintering butterfly pupae

onelunalady(6a)October 31, 2012


I live in NE Ohio and I have some PVS pupae that should overwinter. A few of the pupae are greenish colored and I have heard that sometimes these will eclose in the fall. Is it okay to leave all of the pupae in a cool room (in the 60's) for three weeks or so to be sure they're not going to eclose until next spring? I store them in a plastic container in the fridge over the winter. Also, does anyone have any tips for storing them in the fridge or outside? Earlier this year when I took some other pupae out of the fridge, most of them didn't and still haven't eclosed. Did disease cause this? Any ideas would be appreciated. Thanks.


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Welcome Anna;
The color is not necessarily indicative of when it will eclose. There are many cues that caterpillars use to determine pupal color. It can be day length, optical input (what color the caterpillar "sees"), temperature, and even surface texture. There are probably other cues as well. Surface texture is one cue that Pipevine swallowtails use.

I don't have much luck with the refrigerator trick. It is very difficult to use. Humidity has to be controlled. There can't be too much or they may mold and there can't be too little or they will dry out.

Many of us have some sort of outdoor cage to keep them in and some keep them in a cold room. Outdoors is best because they can be exposed to rain and natural humidity. However, you have to protect them from critters that might want to snack on them. This means mice in the winter, and other insects (I have the most trouble with ants) during the warmer months before they eclose. If you choose an aquarium type set up, make sure they don't drown if it is open to the sky.

Do you have experience with the pipevine normally overwintering in NE Ohio? My understanding was that they didn't overwinter much above I-70. They may migrate farther north in a good year but not normally (this may be changing however). So, you might want to think about overwintering them somewhere a little warmer than outside but not warm enough to cause them to eclose sooner. Maybe outside but bring them into the garage during extreme lower temps.

I am sure others have good bits of advice as well.

Good luck,

    Bookmark   October 31, 2012 at 7:33PM
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KC Clark - Zone 2012-6a OH

I 2nd what Elisabeth said about using the fridge. The only time I use it is for dirt pupators with no dirt and my success rate is not good.

As for keeping them in the 60 degree room for 3 weeks, what would you do with them if they did eclose? Too cold to let them go. I'd go cold storage now since I'd rather have a dud chrysalis than have to euthanize a PVST.


    Bookmark   November 1, 2012 at 5:29PM
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Thanks for the helpful info. I did have many PVS cats in the summer of 2010 or 2011. I don't know how far the females will travel to lay eggs but I live in the Massillon area of Stark County. That's around 50 miles north of Cambridge (I-70). I only had a few PVS cats this summer probably because of the extreme heat and drought in our area. I would love to talk more about PVS with others, especially in my area. It would be very interesting to see where the PVS is breeding in Ohio and surrounding areas. Is there any way to correspond through this forum? Thanks again for the great suggestions.

    Bookmark   November 1, 2012 at 9:08PM
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terrene(5b MA)

Hi Lunalady,

I started a thread about this very same subject last fall because I was overwintering 3 Black Swallowtails and 7 Spicebush Swallowtails last year (see link below).

I had pretty good success with this method of overwintering - 1 BST rotted, but 2 eclosed in the spring. All 7 Spicebush shrysalises emerged in the spring, however 5 were butterflies and 2 were weird wasps!

This year I have 7 Black Swallowtail chrysalises (didn't have time to raise any P. troilus this summer) and I am overwintering them the same way this year - just put them in the mesh sleeve on the back of the house yesterday!.

Here is a link that might be useful: Overwintering Papilio chyrsalises

    Bookmark   November 2, 2012 at 2:42PM
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This was a bad year for pipevine swallowtails. We didn't see nearly as many as we have in the past. It could be the drought. They seem to use wild ginger here since A. serpentaria is not as common as it used to be, or in this area (SW Ohio). By the way, I did locate a few plants this year but that is another story. Anyhow, wild ginger definitely is sensitive to drought and dies back. So, that could be why. Also, we just see this variation in butterflies with boom and bust cycles. We had alot either last year of the year before. I can't remember. Anyhow, I can ask around with Ohio Leps folks if I remember. You should be able to click on our user names to send an email.


    Bookmark   November 2, 2012 at 3:46PM
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misssherry(Z8/9SE MS)

My chrysalides are in a mesh cage on my covered porch, where they go through the same temperatures as the outside individuals, but are protected from rain. I used to put them in an unheated room, but it must not have been cold enough, because a few would emerge in the winter and quite a few emerged too early in the spring. My daughter moved into the room, so I was forced to leave them outside, which has worked out better - they emerged this past spring at a better time, when the trees and bushes were making new growth.
I have 7 or 8 pipevine swallowtail chrysalides, plus black swallowtails, a giant swallowtail and a tiger swallowtail overwintering now.
We've already had a low temp of 39 degrees in the last cold spell, so it looks like this may be a cold winter. We usually don't get a freeze until well into December.


    Bookmark   November 2, 2012 at 4:16PM
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Like last year, I am keeping my BST chrysalises in a mesh cage on my front porch. They are protected there from rain, ice, snow, etc. This last spring, all of my chrysalises emerged just fine once the weather was appropriate for them. The mesh cage this year is a big larger, but the mesh allows them to cling to its surface for wing expansion and drying.


    Bookmark   November 4, 2012 at 9:16AM
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terrene(5b MA)

MissSherry, it is impressive that you are overwintering 4 species of Papilio!

A covered or unheated 3-season porch would be a great place to overwinter leps. Unfortunately, I don't have either, which is really annoying when it's raining! My garage experiment failed, maybe because I spritzed too much. So the best idea seemed to rig up something outside and let Ma nature take care of the temps, airflow, and humidity.

Here is a pic of this year's setup. I added some sticks to make more room in the sleeve -

    Bookmark   November 4, 2012 at 10:40AM
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KC Clark - Zone 2012-6a OH

I overwinter my black, giant, and tiger swallowtails in an unheated, detached garage. I did not mention that because I'm with Elisabeth on this one. We don't have experience overwintering PVSTs in northeast Ohio. It gets bloody cold up there (I used to live there). If you look at a PVST range map, they don't live in the northern part of the US (my Ohio survey book shows them in northern Ohio but mentions they are few and far between). Could be because the hostplants don't grow up there and/or it could be because the pupa cannot stand the cold. I don't know the answer so I'd error on the side of caution and not keep PVST chrysalises where they are going to be frozen for weeks.

Anecdotal evidence shows that PVSTs have shown up in the north (Minnesota, Wisonsin, South Dakota) to take advantage of pipevines planted there. BUT, during the subsequent years, there were none which leads me to believe the chrysalises could not stand the cold and the ones that showed up were from a gravid female that strayed north. YMMV

    Bookmark   November 5, 2012 at 12:12PM
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I am new to this process. I found what I think is a black swallowtail larva on my flowering parsley in early October. I brought it inside and have kept it in mason jar with a mesh lid. It's been feeding on parsley and fennel flowers/seeds. It seems very happy and getting bigger, losing it's spikes and changing colours. But it is now November 9/14 and it seems to have stalled. I didn't realize they can over winter. Now that I know I have moved it into a cold room with a large window so there is plenty of light. When can I expect it to form into a chrysalis? Am I doing this correctly? thanks for your help everyone!

    Bookmark   November 9, 2014 at 4:04PM
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bernergrrl(z5 IL)

HI there,

Can you explain what you mean by it has stalled? Is it resting? Sometimes before they go through a molt or have found a space to make their chrysalis they do seem to "rest"; you should see something happen in a day or two. Do you have a pic you can show us of your caterpillar?

Thanks and congrats on your wonderful find. Spring will be extra welcome for you. :)

    Bookmark   November 10, 2014 at 8:33AM
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KC Clark - Zone 2012-6a OH

You do not want to move a BST cat into a cold room. Keep it in a warm room but limit light to the amount of light (length of time) it would get outside.


    Bookmark   November 10, 2014 at 7:57PM
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kaboehm (zone 9a, TX USA)

So, near Houston, do I need to overwinter GSTs?

    Bookmark   November 11, 2014 at 9:30PM
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kaboehm (zone 9a, TX USA)


    Bookmark   November 15, 2014 at 5:29PM
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KC Clark - Zone 2012-6a OH

The folks with knowledge about GSTs in that area just are not hanging around this website much these days. I suggest using Google's advanced search and searching this forum for posts on GSTs and Texas. Google will find posts the Gardenweb search won't see.


Put "forums.gardenweb.com/forums/load/butterfly/" in the "site or domain:" box.

    Bookmark   November 16, 2014 at 1:08PM
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kaboehm (zone 9a, TX USA)

Thanks! The house is kept fairly cool and I wonder if I need to force dormancy or if they'll just know that they're not supposed enclose. Temps back to near 80 late this week.

    Bookmark   November 16, 2014 at 6:18PM
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