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Your method of raising Giant Swallowtails

Posted by caterwallin 6-PA (My Page) on
Mon, Aug 22, 11 at 20:46

I'd like to know if everyone besides me has luck with raising Giant Swallowtails. Maybe it would help to know exactly how other people do it. I don't have much luck raising them. Some of them make it to maturity, but there are an awful lot of them that die when they're very tiny. I raise them in shoebox-sized plastic storage containers in which I keep cuttings of rue in florist tubes. The caterpillars seem to be away from the rue more than they're on it. Then they act like they can't find their food source and move their heads side to side like they're looking for it (my interpretation anyway). I've tried letting them alone, and I've also put them on the rue, but they crawl off again without eating. I eventually find them dead in the container.

So what in the world am I doing wrong?! This is the only kind of cat that I have trouble raising. Rue is the only host plant that I have for them. I don't understand why they wouldn't like the rue since the female lays her eggs on it. I wonder if the rue shouldn't be fed to them in an enclosed space like a small storage container? I know that rue has a strong smell and didn't know if that would adversely affect them if they're not out in the open like they would be if I'd let them outside on the rue plants.

I have about 25 eggs that I collected from the rue (hate to see the spiders get them...they seem to always be hanging out on the plants). I swore up and down that I wasn't going to try raising them again, but I brought them in anyway. So now I have the dilemma of how I'm going to raise them. I have plenty of rue outside for them, but I'm not sure what would be the best way to feed it to them. I had tried to start some wafer ash trees a few years ago but didn't have any luck. I think I might try that again sometime and see if they'd do better on that, but for now, I really would appreciate your suggestions. I'd like to know how you all raise GSTs. Some of these eggs look like they'll hatch soon so thought I'd better ask before it's too late.
Cathy


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Your method of raising Giant Swallowtails

This year, I'm currently 17 for 17 with #18 probably making a hoop tomorrow (or right now).

Mine are all raised on wafer ash. I use a method I poo-pooed when it was first suggested: little 6" wedding bags with draw strings.

I use one bag per caterpillar and keep all the cats right on the tree. When the bag is out of food, the cat almost always walks onto the bag. I then move the bag to a new stem (each stem has 3 leaves). Second year I've been doing it and it works like a charm.

KC


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RE: Your method of raising Giant Swallowtails

This is my first year attempting to raise them and I only have Rue to feed them. I've noticed the same behavior with the tiny hatchlings. My few are contained in a large mesh butterfly rearing cage which should provide good ventilation. Since I've noticed the same behavior with the tiny cats, I'm not certain it would be the strong fragrance of the Rue that is disturbing your little cats.

I like KC's idea of the little mesh drawstring bags and may try that, placing them on the Rue plant itself. I have both spiders and wasps so not certain I can totally protect them outside. I've brought in two cats that had reached what I think was 2nd instar when I discovered them and they've survived and are thriving. I'm only batting about 50% with bringing in eggs and getting them to maturity. If we could get them through the hatchling stage in the net bags and then bring them in, maybe we'd both have better luck as foster mom's to these big beauties.

I'm going to pick up some of those little netting bags and give it a try. Will let you know how it works out.

~Mary


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RE: Your method of raising Giant Swallowtails

'Sorry about your lack of success with the giants, Cathy.
I just raise mine in mesh, reptarian/butterfly cages on my porch like I do for all the others. They've been very easy for me to raise - I released 3 more yesterday - so it's puzzling.
What kind of covering do you put on the plastic containers?
My cats don't like rue nearly as well as they like Ptelea trifoliata, their favorite, and they don't grow as quickly on it as they do Ptelea. Still, they DO eat it, do grow and make perfect adults.
Sherry


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RE: Your method of raising Giant Swallowtails

Mary,

Please don't call it "KC's idea." I think the thread is long gone but it was someone else's idea. I remember posting that the wedding bags were a bad idea because the size was too small and the bags would become full of wet frass. Then last year, I ended up with GST eggs on my wafer ash and viceroy eggs on my willow (turned out to be RSPs). I needed a way to overwinter the viceroy cats and a way to raise GSTs on a very small tree (I did not want to be cutting branches off). I remembered the wedding bag suggestion and thought it might accomplish what I needed. The wet frass is a problem but because there are so few leaves in the bag, I have to move the bags a lot so I'm dumping the frass quite often which keeps it from becoming a big messy problem.

They do not work with everything. I used a few bags this year to cover monarch eggs on my Sullivant's milkweed (I don't have much Sullivant's so I did not want to be breaking off leaves to harvest eggs). It was a miserable failure. All the cats quickly died off.

KC


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RE: Your method of raising Giant Swallowtails

kc, Congratulations on your great success raising your Giant Swallowtails! I'd like to use that method eventually, but it will be a few years until I can get some trees started and have them big enough. The GST pair is here every day flying around and nectaring on the butterfly bushes, V. bonariensis, and tithonia. I suspect that she'll lay more eggs, but I think I'll leave the rest outside because judging from the past, they might just be better off left out there. I noticed that they always lay their eggs at the top on the flowers and seed heads and are very easy to find. I wish that my raising them would be easy too.

Mary, Sorry to hear that you have that happen to your Giant Swallowtails too. I just don't get why it happens...very puzzling! I only have rue to feed mine too and am determined now to start some wafer ash trees. I'm almost certain I'd have better luck with them than the rue. If I knew that there were no spiders on one of the rue plants, I'd put a big mesh bag over it to protect the cats from the wasps that like to fly around the plants and just sort of let them raise themselves outside. I guess almost any method other than the one I've been using would be better to raise the cats than what I've been doing. That would be good, what you mentioned to have them outside under mesh and then bring them in later on. I don't have big ones die; it's just the hatchlings.

Sherry, I'm glad that you don't have trouble with them like Mary and I do. You're lucky to have wafer ash. I tried to start them before with no success, but I'll have to give it a go again. I'd rather raise them on that than the rue since they seem to have a problem with it for some reason. I wish I had small rue plants in pots that I could sit in my butterfly cage, but I gave them all away. lol I suppose I could always dig one up. Oh, the things I go through for these butterflies! :-)
Thanks to you all for sharing your methods of raising the giants!
Cathy


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RE: Your method of raising Giant Swallowtails

I got my first wafer ashes from Oikos but they seem to have quit carrying them. Myself and another guy I know bought wafer ashes from Shooting Star in KY this year. Unfortunately, they are only about 1' tall versus the 4' ones I got from Oikos. Woodlanders is another source. They sell a 1 gallon size wafer ash. I have no idea how to translate that into height. I like Woodlanders but they quit shipping things at the end of March, so plan ahead.


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RE: Your method of raising Giant Swallowtails

My apologies, KC.

~Mary


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RE: Your method of raising Giant Swallowtails

Definitely no apologies necessary. It was more me eating crow since I have embraced an idea that I did not think was worth much when I first read it. Wish I could find that thread. When you do a search for "wedding" here, it comes up with 895 threads but almost all of them do not contain the word "wedding." Weird.


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RE: Your method of raising Giant Swallowtails

Thanks for the info, KC. I'll keep them in mind.


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RE: Your method of raising Giant Swallowtails

I had Rue but rarely found that the Giants used it, they always use my Wild Lime. My neighbor also has a Grapefruit and I have an Orange, they may use them as well as I see them flying around both. I only bring in the eggs from the Wild Lime. I raise them just like any of the other types of caterpillars in my mesh enclosures with the host food kept in water in Starbucks cups.


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RE: Your method of raising Giant Swallowtails

Rue has very high levels of furanocoumarins. Although both black and giant swallowtails use it, they always prefer other hosts. In the butterfly house, it is only after every leaf of Ptelea is coated with eggs that the giants will start to lay on the rue. We notice that caterpillars transfered to rue take a little longer to develop. And that is with later instars who probably tolerate furanocoumarins well. You could try younger leaves and see if that goes better till they are older.

I wonder too if you could cut the stems and let them sit in water for a period first. Black swallowtails cut the stems on plants to stop the flow of protective chemicals to the leaves.

Good luck,
Elisabeth


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RE: Your method of raising Giant Swallowtails

All of this information is very interesting and most helpful (one of the reasons I so enjoy this forum) but I would like to stress to those who have small in town gardens and cannot grow some of the larger host plants or citrus (that requires extra special care in colder climates) that you might still consider growing Rue for both the Giant and Black Swallowtails. Rue is a pretty plant, easy to grow, and fits in nicely in a small garden setting and it will be used by these butterflies. I'm sure the butterflies would prefer other host plants but with the loss of butterfly habitat, any acceptable host plant is better than none.

While some of my GST hatchlings haven't thrived, those cats that made it beyond the first instar have grown big and stong and produced lovely big butterflies, all on Rue. I have GST's visiting almost dailey now and regularly find their eggs on the Rue.

I'm going to try and let them hatch on the Rue in the garden and then bring them in once they've grown a bit. Maybe this will allow more of the hatchlings to survive. Maybe they need the outdoor warmth and humidity to thrive when they're very tiny. I've had no problems with older cats I've discovered outside and brought in to finish raising. They've all survived and become lovely big soaring jewels.

~Mary


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RE: Your method of raising Giant Swallowtails

You're right, Mary, they do thrive on rue. I've raised jillions of 'em on it. The only problem with it this year is that all mine has died, or nearly died - I think it was the extreme heat we had in June.
I have a problem growing every black swallowtail host plant (heat related) except mock bishop's weed. It's very weedy, but I'm going to try and get more of it to grow on my roadsides. I've raised BSTs on it, and, aside from the somewhat loose, inky frass it gives the cats, it's fine - they reach maturity on it.
Sherry


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RE: Your method of raising Giant Swallowtails

Thank you for all of the comments, and that's very interesting to know about the furanocoumarins. I've resisted saying anything until now for fear of jinxing a good thing, but now that they're bigger, I think it's safe to say that the Giant Swallowtails will be fine. Yay! Maybe the high level of furanocoumarins in the fresher-cut rue other years was the problem. This time I cut it ahead of time, days before they would hatch. None of them displayed that behavior I mentioned that they did previous years of going off of the plant and acting like they were looking for food. I think other years I had probably waited until close to hatching time to cut the rue to keep it as fresh as possible. So I guess my concern for their health had actually been there downfall.

I have 24 cats of the 25 eggs that I collected several weeks ago. One of them hatched way ahead of the others, and the difference in size is obvious, although they're all way past the tiny stage. I'll guess that the biggest one will be eating another week or so until it pupates, and so I'll probably have some here yet at the end of the month and maybe even into the first week or so of November. I remember from other years that unlike the other kinds of butterflies that I raised, these take much longer. Of course, they're a bigger caterpillar and butterfly than the others too. :) If we would happen to get a frost before all of them have pupated, I can always bring in a bunch of rue and keep it in the house until they've finished eating.

I just wanted to let you all know that the GSTs are doing fine, and I expect to have them here over the winter unless there are any that are extra anxious to come out this year yet.

Cathy


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RE: Your method of raising Giant Swallowtails

Glad to hear your guys are doing well Cathy. For what it's worth the first ones I tried all did exactly as you described. And I offered them several things from rue to lemon to orange leaves, they'd wander from one to the other "looking" for something that they could not find, till eventually dying off. But other than some virus times, never have had that again. (Not to say that some have not wandered off unnoticed "looking" for something.) Something about the weather? Climate? Time of year? Or are they just tormenting you as a new mom. Who knows but hopefully you are full steam ahead now.
Kelly


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RE: Your method of raising Giant Swallowtails

Thanks, Kelly. If you only had that happen one time and that's it, then that's good. I'm actually surprised that more people other than you, me, and Mary have experienced this. I know that others raise them and I wast thinking that it might have something to do specifically with the rue, but now that you mentioned that they did it for you with other kinds of leaves, then I guess it goes beyond that. Like you mentioned, who knows if it has something to do with the weather, time of year, and/or perhaps something else. Maybe the stars have to be aligned just right or it throws them off. :) It is definitely frustrating when it happens, and I'm just so happy that they're not tormenting me this year.

I found a GST cat on one of my gas plants the other day. The egg was apparently laid about the same time as the others, but silly me didn't think of looking on the gas plants. So I brought in the cat and some gas plant cuttings and put them in with the other cats and some transferred over to them to meet their new litter mate. :)

Cathy


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RE: Your method of raising Giant Swallowtails

Kcclark: What is a "wedding bag?"


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RE: Your method of raising Giant Swallowtails

Here is my first GS cat to attempt to raise. I watched him on the tangerine tree for 14 days or so. Does anyone with a practiced eye for this know which instar this little fellow is in? I have put him in a mesh cage now.


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RE: Your method of raising Giant Swallowtails

Beth,
Just happened to have the top of the package handy to put in a picture. Had to reload this year so I bought 24 new bags. My tree is covered in them right now.

As you can see from the packaging, the bags I'm buying right now are 5"X7". When I posted a couple years ago, I was getting 4"X6" bags. Those got replaced by 3"X5" which did not work out so well. The 5"X7" followed. There are some tight spots where I prefer the 4"X6" bags I have left but the 5"X7" work well.

I buy the bags at Hobby Lobby but other similar stores also have them.

KC


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RE: Your method of raising Giant Swallowtails

Thanks so much for the information, KC! That is such a great idea. I am definitely going to try that.

The little fellow up there in the picture that I posted is happily pupated in a mesh cage. I was so afraid that a bird would get him, so I decided to try to raise him in the butterfly cage. I think he pupated after a couple of days. I now have a tiny hatchling in there with him. Any advice on getting him to the chrysalis stage, too, other than keeping fresh lemon/tangerine/rue leaves in there with him?


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