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Backyard Fun: How to Make a Butterfly Habitat

Updated on August 23, 2017

Create a butterfly habitat for summer fun

Want a fun backyard activity? Make a butterfly habitat. Butterflies are drawn to habitats everywhere. They are in cities, museums, towns, schools, and backyards across the nation. Why not? Butterflies are colorful, charming, and enchanting. Butterflies show up on stamps around the world. If you find one in your backyard, you'll want more.

Make a butterfly habitat is a great Earth Day activity

Creating a butterfly habitat is a fun learning experience and often shows up as a school science project. Making butterfly habitats is definitely a fun family educational outdoor activity and a perfect spring project.

Choose from a variety of habitats

There are several ways to create a butterfly habitat. Many dedicate a portion of their garden into a butterfly-friendly zone by finding and buying plants and flowers that attract butterflies. But you can also create a habitat that allows you to have a more up front and personal contact with butterflies, too.

A habitat helps you understand the world of butterflies

Why bother creating a habitat when, if you wait long enough, a butterfly will flit by? Why not? An easy answer is that making a butterfly habitat is fun for you and a quick science fair project for any kid. While there are commercial habitats available, we're focusing on an easy-to-make habitat that uses common household items. Having a place that butterflies love provides a more intimate and great way to study them and learn about their ecosystem.

Why Butterflies?

Are they really pretty insects?

Watching two butterflies dance is a wonderful experience. They dart, they flit, the swirl. At times it seems as if they are going straight up and down. They dance in tandem yet race around and around you until you'd swear they were dancing only for you.

Are you curious about these beautiful flying insects?

Like many, I'm curious about butterflies. Do you know they don't have any teeth? The eat from a long tube called a proboscis.Butterflies are found around the world and there are more than 5,000 species.

Isn't a moth the same as a butterfly?

Many people assume that butterflies and moths are the same thing but that moths are just drabber, less glamorous. Not so. Moths are moths. And they come in a wide range of sizes and colors. If you ever get a chance to see a moth exhibit, do so. They are definitely not butterflies.

Is a butterfly really an insect?

Another assumption some have is that a butterfly is not an insect. That is wrong. Butterflies are every much an insect as a ladybug or an ant. They're just more captivating to most of us.

Old nursery rhymes are full of references to ladybugs, ants, and butterflies. Do you remember this?

Butterfly, butterfly,

Whence do you come?

"I know not, I ask not,

Nor ever had a home."

Butterfly, butterfly,

Where do you go?

"Where the sun shines,

And where the buds grow."

Will a butterfly help grant my secret wish? quotes an old Native American legend that says, " If you have a secret wish, capture a butterfly and whisper your wish to it. Since butterflies cannot speak, your secret is ever safe in their keeping. Release the butterfly, and it will carry your wish to the Great Spirit, who alone knows the thoughts of butterflies. By setting the butterfly free, you are helping to restore the balance of nature, and your wish will surely be granted."

Image Credits.1) Butterfly Lifecycle by Reanimator86 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or /" class="external free" rel="nofollow">">GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons 2) Image of Book Cover Chasing Butterflies from 1800s, Public Domain - Source Vintage Ephemera

The butterflies dance accompanied by Yanni - Watch the butterflies dance and enjoy

The music is by Yanni, the butterflies by nature. Watch the butterflies dance.

Do Butterflies Have a Special Meaning for You?

Some people think butterflies are special, transormative creatures that hold meaning for those whose paths they cross. I remember a beautiful butterfly dance I once witnessed. How about you?

Are butterflies special to you? Have you ever had a special experience with them?

Choose your type of butterfly habitat - Backyard butterfly fun for young and old alike

There are plenty of ways to house butterflies or provide them with shelter so that you can watch them. Why not try several different styles of butterfly habitats to see which you like best? Talk about a fascinating Spring garden project full of backyard fun.

Backyard Safari Butterfly Habitat
Backyard Safari Butterfly Habitat
Have fun with this quick pop-up butterfly habitat. It's easy to use and quick to display.

What to do before you create a butterfly habitat

There are a few things you might want to do before you begin putting your butterfly habitat together. Most cities or towns have a local butterfly habitat, even a small one, at a park or maybe offered through a local nursery or museum.

Lure butterflies and keep them in your garden

It's good to know which plants native to your home attract butterflies so you can make sure you plant them in your garden. Any local nursery can help you with the plant selection but visiting butterfly habitats is a terrific way to get ideas, to experience the butterflies, and to see what others have done. You'll be amazed at the breadth of plants and how easy they are to grow.

What Plants Attract Butterflies - Houston's Cockrell Butterfly Center talks butterflies and plants

What Else Should You Do Before You Start Your Habitat

Where to find live butterlies, eggs, and larvae

Getting ready for the butterflies

If you're doing a simple butterfly garden, you can certainly prepare the garden area with butterfly-attracting plants and then wait. But if you are building an indoor habitat or don't want to wait, you can buy butterfly larvae to get the process started. And if you see a caterpillar around, you might want to introduce him to your new butterfly digs.

What about a DIY butterfly habitat?

If you are the do-it-yourself type, you might prefer to go on a butterfly egg hunt. Searching for butterfly eggs can be fun. You essentially find them, gather them, and take them home to your habitat. As with any live creature, you'll need to make sure you provide the right food and enough water for them to survive.

What do the caterpillars and the butterfly habitat need?

Caterpillars like to crawl and climb. They need twigs to climb and places to make their cocoons. The twigs do double-duty because they become the food for the butterflies once they come out of their cocoons. You've heard of Eric Carle's picture book The Hungry Caterpillar? Well, they are hungry little creatures so you want to be sure you have plenty of food for them.

Get Your Butterfly Eggs, Larvae, and Caterpillars Here! - Commercial online sources for live caterpillars, eggs, and butterflies

If you decide to buy butterfly eggs, remember only half of the eggs will probably hatch so keep that in mind when ordering. It will take about a month to go from egg to butterfly. You'll also need the culture and plenty of food for them when they hatch. A lot of people skip the egg stage and go for the caterpillars.

What Do You Need to Make a Butterfly Habitat? - Supplies needed for this inexpensive backyard science project

The most basic of butterfly habitats can be made with the following household items. One warning: Do not punch holes in a lid for a jar and plan to use the jar for the caterpillars. They won't get enough air. Make sure you get a box or a tank with appropriate ventilation. If you don't want to build one yourself, you can buy the ready-made commercial ones.

  1. Research your locale to be sure you have the right plants and flowers that will attract butterflies. It would be nice to have some plants in your yard so you can release your butterfly to a quick food source. If you go ahead and create a small butterfly garden, all the better. You'll have the perfect place to release your the new butterflies.
  2. Find a container or box for your caterpillars or get one from a pet store or online supplier. Some people use aquarium tanks. Others buy commercial products. Make sure it's clean. You'll need a top that will stay closed so the caterpillars don't get away. You also need to make sure air is circulating. Caterpillars may eat all the time but they also need to breathe. If your caterpillars get too large for your first container, put them in a larger box but make sure there's netting on top and it's secure.
  3. The usual culprits: twigs, dirt, and leaves. Remember, they are hungry little creatures so give them a lot. A leafy plant is good. If you've plucked your caterpillar from a plant outside, it's nice to have some of the same plant in the habitat as you know they like it as a food source.
  4. Netting, large enough to cover the top of your tank or box for the caterpillars.
  5. A small plastic dish
  6. Butterfly larvae. They can be bought at pet stores or online. See the online resources below. If you go with the commercial butterfly habitats, you'll want to order your butterfly larvae right away as it takes some weeks to get them. Make sure you also have a caterpillar or two.

Watch the complete life cycle of the Monarch butterfly - From the egg to the caterpillar to the butterfly

Making a simple DIY butterfly habitat

Depending on the size of your container, you'll want to fill it with the twigs, leaves, and soil so that your caterpillars will have plenty to do and eat.

They'll be hungry. They'll be thirsty, so use the small dish for water and maybe give them a fine mist once or twice a day. Some people wet a few cotton balls and put them in the habitat.

Be sure you clean the cage and replace the twigs, leaves, plants and dirt. Caterpillars leave droppings, too.

Whatever you do, make sure the habitat is enclosed and secure. You don't want your caterpillars getting away. Tack that netting down so it won't come off.

What Happens After the Butterfly Habitat is Made?

Butterflies provide hours of entertainment

The habitat is finished. Now what?

The Waiting Game: After you've built it, will they come?

At first it's a waiting game. If you've started from eggs, it will take a week or so before you have caterpillars. This is a good time to have a notebook handy so you can record the date and time and what is happening. Note any changes.

The Hungry Caterpillar Stage: Watch, watch, and watch some more

Observation is the key to understanding any living creature. Grab a camera and a notebook and start watching. Once you have caterpillars there will be a lot more activity. They are hungry so they eat a lot. This is also a time when you can touch them, even hold them gently. Let them climb on your hand, your wrist, your arm. Make sure you keep their cage clean and give them new food.

But as they begin to change into the chrysallid stage, they will become quiet. You do not want to bother them, touch them, or disturb anything that is going on at this stage.

The Big Moment: The magic of the emerging butterly:

Make sure you have the dirt, leaves, and twigs on the floor of the habitat. Eventually the chrysallid will fall to the floor. This is where the real fun begins. Soon the butterflies will appear.

Keep an eye on the habitat and watch carefully, noting each and every change. Make sure you date every note. Take photos and videos. Be prepared for the big event. A few days before the butterfly emerges, check the color of the chrysallids. If they are darker, it won't be long. You might even be able to see the butterfly wings inside.

It only takes a few minutes for a butterfly to emerge from the chrysallid. So watch and listen for the cracking of the chrysallid. When you hear it, watch the butterflies appear.

Baby Butterflies? Now what?

Your butterflies will need some time for the new wings to dry but then they will need to eat. Butterflies feed off of nectar from flowers. While some butterflies will seek hummingbird nectar others will not. You can put some super ripe fruit out for them, too. When the wings have dried, go ahead and gently urge them onto your finger. If you put your finger near its legs, the butterfly will probably hop on for the ride.

Now it's time to take your new friend outside and release the butterfly so he can find food and continue living. They have short lifespans so it's important to get them out into the natural habitat and garden quickly. If you've prepared a butterfly garden, your new friend will hang around as long as he can.

Love butterflies or maybe you have a great butterfly story to share - What do you think about butterflies?

Do you think butterflies are pretty or do they have a real job to do?

How to Make a Butterfly Garden and Backyard Habitat - Plant, Watch, Grow - The Butterflies Will Come

Life around home's William Moss shows us how to make a butterfly garden and create a backyard habitat with nectar rich plants. This is a great way to invite beneficial and beautiful creatures like butterflies and even hummingbirds. William gets the children involved in the garden, planting flowers that will attract butterflies like aster, lobelia, cardinal and cone flowers. The children learn how to get in the plants in the ground and even find a giant earthworm! Subscribe to our channel for more great green living tips!

Field Gear

Equipment for the Budding Naturalist

Create Your Own Butterfly Experience

LITTLE WINGS - This lightweight habitat collapses for easy carrying in the field then expands a full 16" to create an instant aviary for live butterflies. A light-weight, spring frame supports a fine, breathable mesh to create the perfect environment for delicate flying creatures. The easy-access closure lets you reach in and out without harming, or accidentally releasing, butterflies. A nylon strap with Velcro closures keeps habitat collapsed when not in use then doubles as a handle for carrying or hanging aloft.

Watch what happens when your child opens up this kit. I bought this for one of my grandson's and he was up at 7:30 am and ready to explore. Loved it. And he doesn't even like bugs. :)

Virtual Visit to the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary in Mexico - Experience Monarch butterflies in their natural habitat

Clip from "A Journey to the Butterflies" (27 min) available at - shot at El Rosario sanctuary in Angangueo, Michoacan. While focusing mostly on experiencing the monarchs, the film is also works as a travel guide.


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