DIY BUTTERFLY HOUSE

A butterfly house, or lepidopterarium is a facility for the breeding and display of butterflies, usually for educational purposes. Butterfly World, the first butterfly house in the United States, opened in Coconut Creek, Florida, in 1988. Now, butterfly houses are owned and operated by museums, universities, zoos, non-profit corporations, and private individuals as part of their residence. You can build your own butterfly house which my friend, Cee, and her husband did earlier this spring.

First, a little history. It all started with building the wine bottle garden to have a place to plant flowers to attract butterflies. From there, she began poking around on Facebook groups dedicated to raising butterflies. In 2017, she began hatching monarchs and successfully raised 480 monarchs and one swallowtail. In 2018, her goal was butterfly house. After much searching on the internet, she and her husband decided to build their own. She also planted a huge bed of milkweed, a food source and host plant for the monarch butterfly. Now, her back yard looks like this:

 

Wine bottle garden on left, blue bottle tree on right, 2018 butterfly house in background. Photo by Cee.

A GARDEN FOR BUTTERFLIES

Cee’s backyard garden is a peaceful paradise of dappled shade, flowers, and monarchs flying around. My immediate impression was a feeling of well-being that I don’t get in my own garden despite how much time I work in it. Note to self: plant more flowers that butterflies like.

This 16 foot by 6 foot milkweed was planted in the spring of 2018 on the left side of the new butterfly house. Cee has now learned that planting milkweed in large blocks is not a good idea. Once predators, such as the tachnid fly, find it, caterpillars become victims. She has now scattered pots of milkweed around the backyard.

Close-up of milkweed bed.
Close-up of milkweed bed. Photo by Cee.

 

Organza bags used as seed catchers in the milkweed bed. Purchased from Amazon but also available in packages of 6 at Dollar Tree.
Organza bags used as seed catchers in the milkweed bed. Purchased from Amazon but also available in packages of 6 at Dollar Tree.

 

Agapanthus blooming in the shade. White rain barrels in the background.
Agapanthus blooming in the shade. White rain barrels in the background.

 

THE BUTTERFLY HOUSE

This is Cee’s new 8 foot x 8 foot butterfly house built by her husband over 2 months of weekends. Cee helped him install the screen panels and the roof is made of clear corrugated vinyl panels.

 

 

The butterfly house allows Cee to keep more habitats. Last year, she released one Black Swallowtail. This year, she added the Gulf Fritillary to her impressive list of butterfly releases. Next, she hopes to be able to attract the Zebra Heliconian to her garden.

OUTSIDE THE BUTTERFLY HOUSE

A wall decoration from Hobby Lobby fashioned into a door knob.
A wall decoration from Hobby Lobby fashioned into a door knob by Cee’s husband.

 

Giant Milkweed
Giant Milkweed which I just love and had never before seen.

 

Maypop Purple Passion Vine at door of the butterfly house; host plant for gulf fritillary.
Maypop Purple Passion Vine at door of the butterfly house; host plant for gulf fritillary.

 

Close-up of Maypop Purple Passion Vine flower.
Close-up of Maypop Purple Passion Vine flower. Photo by Cee.

 

Butterfly bench from Kirklands.
Butterfly bench from Kirklands.

 

Two solar panels run the lights inside the butterfly house. Solar battery back-up has a radio.
Two solar panels run the lights inside the butterfly house. Solar battery back-up has a radio.

 

Left front corner of butterfly house. Red battery back-up in background.

 

INSIDE THE BUTTERFLY HOUSE

Happy Place sign
To me, this said it all. Photo by Cee.

 

Front left corner

 

$50 Granite counter top purchased from Habitat for Humanity. The hole for the sink now has a garbage can under it for quick clean-up.
$50 Granite counter top purchased from Habitat for Humanity. The hole for the sink now has a garbage can under it for quick clean-up.

 

Butterfly wind chime in back corner.
Butterfly wind chime in back corner.

 

Floor of the butterfly house. The rock and stepping stone is for tax purposes -- our City taxes outbuildings with cement floor.
Floor of the butterfly house. The rock and stepping stone is for tax purposes — our City taxes outbuildings with cement floor.

 

Rooting common milkweed in water. The PVC pipe is a paper towel holder. Photo by Cee.

 

Seed saving in paper bags; drying seeds in mesh bags. Photo by Cee.
Seed saving in paper bags; drying seeds in mesh bags. Photo by Cee.

This next photo shows Cee’s mesh butterfly habitats from Amazon; the small green ones are around $10. Cee has found that viewing is easier with the black habitat. Three habitats are for monarchs, one for swallowtail and one for gulf fritillary.

 

Photo by Cee.

Diseases in butterflies are more prevalent in climates that are warm year-round where the milkweed isn’t knocked back by the cold or a freeze.  An infected monarch can drop OE spores onto milkweed leaves that are then eaten by the larva when it hatches from the egg.  OE or Ophryocystis Elektroscirrha is a parasite that infects butterflies in the monarch species. To avoid OE, a special ratio of bleach and water is used on both the eggs of the caterpillars and the milkweed fed to them.  It also helps to cut back the milkweed and allow it to regenerate. This is what Cee does for her monarchs:

  • Find eggs on leaves.
  • After 24 hours, to ensure the shell has hardened, it is safe to bleach eggs that have not hatched using proper bleach/water ratio and timing.
  • Put in small container or put leaves in floral picks until eggs hatch.
  • Move to habitat with similarly sized caterpillars, keeping bleached and unbleached separated since caterpillars from bleached eggs are less likely to be diseased.
  • Keep in mesh habitat until they pupate and form chrysalis.
  • After chrysalis has hardened (about 1 day), move to chrysalis “nursery.”

 

This is Cee's chrysalis nursery (inside a zippered laundry hamper). Photo by Cee.
This is Cee’s chrysalis nursery (inside a zippered laundry hamper). Photo by Cee.

 

Black swallowtail chrysalis in black butterfly habitat.
Black swallowtail chrysalis in black butterfly habitat. Photo by Cee.

Laminated booklet of 80 species, their caterpillars and host plants. Published by QuickReferencePublishing.com (2014). It stays in the butterfly house.

 

Laminated booklet of 80 species, their caterpillars and host plants. Published by QuickReferencePublishing.com (2014).
Photo by Cee.