A butterfly can lay several hundred eggs. Out of those eggs, only 1 or 2 will live to become an adult. What a huge loss! What can we do to save butterflies from this 'natural' death rate? When we become interested in butterflies, we can become aware of many dangers and take action to prevent some of their deaths. We cannot do much to help prevent their deaths without physically interfering by placing a confinement around caterpillars.
Can we do anything? Yes, there are some things we can do.
1. Use caution when treating buildings, yards, and gardens for pests.
2. If possible, bring the caterpillars indoors to raise in a disinfected rearing container that is so secure that parasitoids (the size of extremely tiny gnats) cannot enter the container. Rearing containers can be purchased or easily made at home.
3. Place a sleeve over the plant or branch of the plant if you cannot or would rather not bring the caterpillars indoors. A sleeve is easy to make. Sleeves should be made of material so fine that parasitoids cannot enter them. Both ends of the sleeve should be secure. (Sleeves are available from several online sources.) If they are placed in a cage outdoors, they can be protected to a certain degree by covering the cage with parasitoid proof net or material. The danger is that when the cage is open to add food, these tiny predators and parasitoids are able to enter. If ants are a problem, the use of Amdro helps. In addition, the legs of the cage can be placed in containers of water. A bar of soap in the containers will prevent mosquitos from reproducing in the water.
4. Disinfect everything that you use when raising caterpillars between every batch of caterpillars. Diseases can be contagious beyond our belief.
5. Replant butterfly host and nectar plants when an area is developed. Development is not a bad thing; schools, hospitals, stores, and so forth are good things. Replacement of butterfly habitat is a wise step in any development project.
What are the dangers for butterflies of which we should be aware?
Predators are on the prowl. Caterpillars and butterflies play an important part in the food chain. Dirt dobbers paralyze and take caterpillars, placing them in their nests to feed their young. Spiders, dragonflies, praying mantids, mice, wasps, lizards, birds … the list is nearly endless.
Parasitoids lay eggs either on a leaf, in eggs, on or in a caterpillar, or on or in a chrysalis. These parasitoids eat the butterfly from the inside out.
Disease is in nature. Diseases run from so minor that they are insignificant in nature to so major that they wipe out hundreds of butterflies or moths in one small area.
Development is not a bad thing. We are thankful for hospitals, schools, homes, research institutes, farms, industry, and other buildings and land clearing that destroys butterfly habitat. The problem is when habitat is taken out and not replaced. A nice development with beautiful homes often means groomed yards and gardens that are sprayed to kill anything that moves and even things that don't move. Plants are chosen for color and beauty only. A great option would be for plants to be chosen with the idea of beauty AND butterflies and moths. Host and nectar plants can be added to landscaping and even retainer ponds.
Pesticide, Insecticide, Organic treatments, and Chemicals:
Gardeners, butterfly enthusiasts, and Lepidopterists quite often disagree with each other about what level of these are safe in our environment. It is a known fact that these will kill butterflies from egg through adult. Some chemicals are considered safe by certain professionals while others are adamant that they are dangerous. We won’t go there! Instead, we encourage caution when choosing which chemicals and other treatments for use in yards and gardens.
Lepidoptera diseases are used to create ‘certified organic’ natural control for ‘worms’ that eat plants in our vegetable gardens and yards. Indiscriminate use of these organic methods of pest control can cause more damage than gardeners realize. Some ‘certified organic’ treatments are far more deadly than some chemicals. Ask questions when choosing a method to control ‘cabbage worms’ or other butterfly and moth caterpillars.
Windshields, weather, and dozens of other items and activities kill our butterflies.