No, this is not some sort of joke or craft idea for Easter. I’m simply not that clever. I thought it would be interesting to take a look at butterfly eggs. With all the fuss right now about planting milkweed for the monarchs, you should know what a butterfly egg looks like when you spot one on a plant.
Butterfly moms are pretty smart cookies. Butterfly larvae (caterpillars) have very selective diets, so the female butterfly lays her eggs on the plants that provide that diet. There is no need for a caterpillar to hunt for its food because mom has already taken care of that. These plants are referred to as butterfly host plants.
This is why there is so much fuss about milkweed for monarchs. The caterpillar of the monarch butterfly only eats the leaves of milkweed. While some caterpillars will only eat one kind of plant, others will often use several different plants of the same family. For example, a black swallowtail uses parsley, rue, dill, celery, and carrot for its host plant.
Once you have a good idea on which plants to look, you can put on your nature detective hat and head outside to go egg hunting. Butterfly eggs are very small…some smaller that others. Generally speaking, the larger the butterfly, the larger the egg. Conversely, the smaller the butterfly, the smaller the egg.
Eggs and newly hatched caterpillars of a tawny emperor butterfly. Photo: Valerie Bugh
Eggs are layed in singles or clusters depending upon the butterfly species.
A single egg of the giant swallowtail and young caterpillar. Photo: Valerie Bugh
Most eggs hatch within 10 days. Imagine the size of the caterpillar that hatches from the egg! Caterpillars are very, very tiny when newly hatched.
If you are a keen observer, you can catch a female butterfly laying her eggs. A female butterfly can be seen flitting about a host plant. Watch her carefully as she will land on the plant, touch her abdomen to the plant, deposit her egg, and then lift off again. This process will continue as long as she feels that she can safely deposit her eggs on the plant.
Female monarch butterfly depositing an egg. Photo: Valerie Bugh
Butterfly eggs come in a variety of colors. Egg colors range from whites to reddish orange to yellows. Eggs often turn a dark color as they near hatching time.
Pipevine butterfly eggs and newly hatched caterpillars. Photo: Valerie Bugh
Remember not to touch the eggs or try to remove them. Most importantly, don’t try to put the caterpillars on another plant.
Queen caterpillar munching on milkweed. Photo: Valerie Bugh
The rewards of gardening for wildlife are many. Just know that you must share your plants and realize that munching will occur!
Great southern white butterfly, eggs, and caterpillars on nasturtium. Photo: Valerie Bugh
Happy egg hunting!