The New Caterpillar House


After an unintentional hiatus, I'm back. Things got rather hectic in my life as the school year transitioned to summer, and new schedules and projects kept my computer time to a ridiculous all-time low, something to rival the Stone Age. Plus, I didn't want to blog until I'd migrated my platform away from Movable Type, and of course here I'm having to blog on MT anyway. But that will change soon! The good news is that the garden overall did not suffer for my busy schedule, thank goodness.

butterflyhousea06-30-12.jpgWe did complete one of my wish-list projects. For some time, I'd been wanting a more permanent structure for raising caterpillars; with the garden and backyard looking so nice, the caterpillar mesh laundry basket just didn't cut it anymore. Welcome to our new caterpillar house!

butterflyhouseb06-30-12.jpgInitially I sketched a basic design, and then Michael built it, using primarily leftover materials from projects of old. We did buy window screen and a latch, so the caterpillar house cost us a whopping $5. For the paint, I used leftover environmentally-friendly exterior paint from when we painted our actual house. The caterpillar house is practically a Mini-Me!

butterflyhousec06-30-12.jpgHere's a side view. The sloping roof is for rain, of course. But it doesn't keep bird poop off the top! The sturdy post means that I no longer do I have to worry about the dogs knocking over the caterpillar tent. We (and by we, I mean Michael) also dug a 2-foot hole into the ground to make sure that post was going to stay good and stable.

butterflyhoused06-30-12.jpgGuess what -- the house has proven to be wonderful. Caterpillars inside stay nicely protected from wasps and birds, and a simple pot with moist soil is enough to keep leaves relatively fresh and caterpillars safe from drowning. I'm going to be making an exterior-grade cloth rectangle for the bottom so that I can keep the bottom clean from caterpillar frass.

butterflyhousee06-30-12.jpgHere's the little latch. Isn't it just adorable?

polyphemuscat06-30-12.jpgRight now I'm raising Polyphemus moth caterpillars. They are already getting huge.


Fortunately, despite their enormous appetites, they are such easy guests. Among other things, they eat oak leaves, the most plentiful leaves on our property. But they'll also eat leaves of citrus trees, trees of the Prunus and elm families, and more.


Just look at those itty bitty feet and little hairs. I think these caterpillars are absolutely gorgeous, itty bitty feet, hairs, color, and all.

polyphemusa03-04-12.jpgYou might recall the Polyphemus moth that joined us for a rather thrilling car ride home in the spring. Here's one of the photos from that day. Big caterpillar = big moth! Wing span will be about 6 inches across.


Yep, the caterpillars are doing fine in their new house, though I brought them into our big house during the 107-degree weather we had recently.

In case you are wondering about the strap on the trees in the above pictures, they are used for this: Michael's new hammock.

hammock06-25-12.jpgI guess he deserves a rest now and then! The mulch below is the remains of the last invasive plants we'd had on the property, two 50-foot Tree of Heavens. We finally were able to hire an arborist to bring them down, and what a relief that was! It's been wonderful to get to plant new natives in their place. There -- that was another big project we took care of during my blogging absence! More to come!


Meredith what a wonderful reason to be away. I adore the house and I love the cute picture in the corner of the house. Interesting caterpillars. Looking forward to the next update.

Donna, thanks! It's good to be back. I've missed blogging and all my online gardening buddies.

Welcome back Meredith! Love the caterpillar house -- very cute!

What variety of caterpillar is orange with blue, red, and yellow stripes? ;-)

you should consider selling these!!

What a clever idea to protect the caterpillars and preserve your view, simultaneously. And what amazing caterpillar and moth shots. My son had what we believe was a Polyphemus moth fluttering around his outside light recently. He took a photo (from a safe distance - it was BIG!) with his phone to show us so it wasn't an optimal ID opportunity but after seeing your clear shot I'm certain.

What a great idea. The Polyphemus looks so exotic. I understand the problem with the wasps.

You know how I love that Cat House! Delighted you gave us a full post on the topic with an added bonus of close-ups of Polyphemus caterpillars.

I really need to make a caterpillar house. The biggest problem I have is that one plant will get an early herd of caterpillars, and then every other plant that gets them later will be systematically picked over by the birds and wasps because they've found the original plant with all the caterpillars and so they just keep coming back... On some of the plants, I'm happy for the help (tomato), on others, not so much (parsley).

That's a thought, Diane -- I bet my husband might enjoy making more.

Could be, could be! I haven't seen one at our house yet, but the caterpillars we are raising might stay close to home during their brief adult stage. You are right about protecting them -- it's raining outside at the moment, and they are all safe in their habitat. But really, it's keeping the wasps and birds at bay that's the real benefit. We, of course, want to feed our birds whatever they like, but the harder to find caterpillars I feel a need to watch out for!

I think it's a beautiful moth, Jeanette -- at that size, it's certainly hard to ignore!

What you are really saying, Vicki, is, "Good gosh, Meredith -- it's about time you posted that!" I know you are -- I can hear it all the way over here. :)

The caterpillar frass can attract the predators in, unfortunately. However, if you don't have time to build a house, the collapsible mesh laundry basket (I bought ours from IKEA) worked very, very well.

Interesting note is that some caterpillars are actually able to "shoot" their frass quite far away from them so that predators can't track them down -- handy defensive adaptation there!

Love your caterpillar house. What a fabulous idea. You should patent it and sell it on the internet. I'm sure that is just what your husband wants to do;) I seen a polyphemus moth in the backyard, but I've never seen the caterpillar. Did you find these in your backyard?

Steph, a member of our local butterfly organization brought some to our latest meeting. Since I have plenty of oaks, I was happy to bring some home! Glad you like the caterpillar house -- we do, too!

Meredith O'Reilly happily
gardens for wildlife in
Austin, TX. She enjoys
educating people of all ages
about native flora, fauna,
and healthy environments.

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