Help! Keeping butterfly alive through winter!

Asked December 3, 2018, 1:45 PM EST

We brought a swallowtail caterpillar in the house towards the end of October. It pupated and then we probably should have put it in the garage, but it stayed in the kitchen and all of a sudden one day, a butterfly was fluttering around in there! It's very difficult to find info on how to keep them. It is too cold to release so I am feeding it a sugar-water nectar by hand. It will NOT unfurl its proboscis to eat! I have to do it each time using a toothpick and laying it in the nectar. I do it twice a day and he (she?) only eats for about 90 seconds. Then he rolls it up and walks away. Is that enough food? Should I do it more often? Is there anyplace I can reloate the butterfly so he can fly around free? Thank you! Kimberly

Hennepin County Minnesota

1 Response

You certainly have an interesting question! First off I couldn’t find any University based info on this, but I did find a few interesting articles which I will pass on to you.

Second the average lifespan of a butterfly is about two weeks, so it will not survive until spring no matter what you do.

Third, I did find a feeding suggestion. Soak a paper towel in the sugar solution and gently place the butterfly on the paper towel and he might be motivated to feed.

Lastly , what you should have done is put the chrysalis in what is called Diapause so that the butterfly won’t emerge until spring. See this reference: https://www.joyfulbutterfly.com/overwinter-chrysalis/

From looking around I gather most people gather eggs and chrysalis over the spring and summer so that they can protect them against predators and have a butterfly that they can then release.

Here is an interesting article on the Swallowtail:

https://www.butterfliesathome.com/tiger-swallowtail-butterfly.htm

Note in the article that they like azaleas. Perhaps you could find a blooming azalea plant at a nursery and put the butterfly on it. Azaleas are popular gifts at Christmas time and you could probably find one at a garden center. Whether it has nectar or not depends on its breeding, but it might be worth a try

Again, these articles are not based on University Research so I can’t vouch for their accuracy.