How to Catch a Caterpillar in Your Backyard

If you’re searching for a caterpillar, you may not have to look farther than your backyard! To catch a caterpillar in your backyard and watch it transform into a butterfly can be a fun and rewarding experience for children and even adults!

If you’re ready to get started, continue reading to learn all you need to know about catching and caring for a caterpillar. 

Which Caterpillars Are in Your Region?

With about 17,500 different species of butterflies in the world, you may want to do some research to narrow down which are in your area. Try going to your state’s official website, and see if you can find a native caterpillar or butterfly list. If you really want to do your research, head to the library, and see what you can find.

Determine Which Kind of Caterpillar You Want to Catch

Once you know the types of caterpillars that are most likely to be living near you, you can start narrowing down the kind you’d like to have as a pet. Different caterpillars become different types of moths or butterflies, so think about what you’d like to watch emerge from the cocoon.

If you’re not too picky, then it could be a fun surprise to see what kind of butterfly you end up with! 

One thing that’s important to note is that some caterpillars are dangerous to touch. So, even if you opt to be surprised, you’ll at least want to look into which caterpillars you don’t want to mess with prior to your search.

Look For the Right Plants

If you’re trying to pick out the perfect caterpillar, then you’ll have to pay attention to the right plants. Not all caterpillars feed the same way, so if there is a specific type you’re looking for, then identifying their favorite plant is a good place to start.

For example, milkweed plants are a favorite of the Monarch butterfly caterpillars, while Spicebush Swallowtail caterpillars can often be found in spicebush.

Search in the Right Seasons

Although different caterpillars can be found in different seasons, most of them can be found in the spring or summer.

Some types of caterpillars enter a state of hibernation during colder months, only coming out once plants are warm enough to leaf and are ready to eat. Other species of caterpillars will lay eggs that remain dormant until it warms up in the spring.

How to Catch the Caterpillar in Your Backyard

You know where to look, so let’s talk about how you actually catch the caterpillar in your backyard. But first, it’s important to mention what to avoid as well.

Be sure to avoid any that are spiny looking caterpillars. Their bristles could be used as a defense mechanism and could injure you. No matter what, wash your hands once you’re done handling any that you find and touch.

Look for Signs

It can be hard to see a caterpillar outright since they are very good at blending into their environment. However, they may leave you a few clues behind to let you know where they’re hiding.

Look at the leaves of the plant you suspect they may be hanging out at and pay attention to any eating damage. Different species leave different eating patterns, so you may even be able to identify the type of caterpillar that was there.

Once you see the bite marks, look through the leaves carefully and see what you find! This is your best bet, so continue this method until you spot one.

Let it Come to You

After you’ve spotted your potential new friend, you’ll want to let it come to you. Caterpillars may have small legs, but they are mighty.

If you begin pulling on the caterpillar or even try picking it up directly, you could hurt it or even rip its legs off. Add a twig, leaf, or even your hand in its path as a safer form of transportation.

Caring For the Caterpillar Until it Turns into a Butterfly

Once you’ve captured the caterpillar, you’ll need a proper home for it to care for it. You can use a fish tank or reptile enclosure with a cover that allows air to flow in and out.

To make it easy to clean, line the bottom of the enclosure with paper towels. If you do not have a lid, you can use cheesecloth. Caterpillars cannot chew through it, and it’s also breathable enough for the caterpillar to get air.

Add sticks, twigs, and leaves to make the caterpillar feel more at home. Lay some twigs on the bottom and keep a few leaned against the cage. These will also give it a place to crawl around and eventually hang off of during the pupae stage.

Before adding the caterpillar, make sure it is safe for them since they can get hurt somewhat easily. Look out for any places where they could get trapped or sharp edges that could scratch them. 

Lastly, make sure to keep its home clean and tidy! Remove any uneaten leaves and replace the paper towels as needed.

What to Feed Caterpillars

Grab some of the leaves off of the plant you collected the caterpillar from for food. If you’re not sure what kind of leaves to add, place a few different types to see what the caterpillar prefers.

If they don’t begin eating immediately, don’t worry. They will eat whenever they’re ready.

Giving Caterpillars Water

Just like any other animal, caterpillars will need water to survive. Don’t place a water bowl because they could crawl inside and drown. Instead, use a spray bottle to spritz some water over the leaves. Continue this process as much as necessary, making sure that there are always a few water droplets for it to drink from.

What to Do Once the Caterpillar is in its Cocoon

You’ll want enough room for the butterfly to spread its wings once it exits the cocoon. If necessary, move the twig with the cocoon to a bigger enclosure. When moving, just make sure to be careful and handle them with care. 

If needed, you can add a small drop of glue to the top of the cocoon then attach it to a new twig. 

Some butterflies will emerge within a couple of weeks, but it could be longer depending on the season. In the fall or winter months, they could live there for a more extended period of time. 

You’ll know when it’s time for the butterfly to emerge once the cocoon changes in color. Depending on the species, it may get a little darker or clear. Once this happens, you should see the butterfly within a couple of days. If the cocoon becomes exceptionally dark, this is a sign that the caterpillar has died.

What to Do Once the Caterpillar Becomes a Butterfly

If keeping the butterfly, make sure you’re providing it with the same plant you originally placed in the enclosure. Once you get to this point, though, you may want to release it back into the wild. Simply open the lid and let it fly away! 

Final Thoughts

Now that you know exactly how to catch a caterpillar in your backyard, you can go outside and let the fun begin immediately! If you don’t find a caterpillar right away, don’t give up. Check under leaves, look at various plants, and try again the next day. Enjoy!