Designing/building a butterfly house

  • Creator
  • #13316


    Hi all

    I received an email yesterday:

    "Do you know who I could contact or where I could search for plans of how to build a butterfly house and what materials to use?"

    I am presuming that the member only wants something for her own garden/use and so am noting below what I have done over the years – but others of you may like to contribute your own experiences.

    Firstly the MBNZT has a book on building butterfly houses for those who want to breed butterflies – but these are intended for commercial enterprises, they’re very serious affairs. But you can borrow this book to see what they suggest.

    Originally I used to bring branches of plants indoors and let them ‘do their thing’ completely indoors. There were always eggs on the branches that the wasps and other baddies had not found.

    Before I had a ‘butterfly house’ I used to throw old net curtains over my swan plants to keep the wasps away from the caterpillars. The Monarchs laid eggs right through the netting, so it gae the caterpillars a chance. Then I also looked for old mosquito nets at garage sales etc, and would use these over plants.

    A few years ago I saw at The Warehouse a little ‘garden greenhouse’ kit for $99, and bought two of those. It wasn’t easy to follow the instructions but I managed to get it assembled. Made of pipe, painted green, and it came with two covers – one is netting and the other is plastic, I’ve never used it. It also had shelves down the sides and across the end, which are removable as youw ant them. This worked really well, I had one for my caterpillars, and another for plants growing protected from the Monarchs.

    Sadly, this year my landlord has demolished the area where they stood so I’m sort of "wondering" what to do – set them up elsewhere or start again in a more formal arrangement. We had one flush of eggs/caterpillars in September, and then nothing much since, so the plants are getting growing well. We lost most of our plants in the garden and neighbourhood last winter – too wet and windy. For my early crop of caterpillars I resorted to hanging the mosquito net on the deck, adding branches of swan plant standing in buckets of water, and then when I ran out of food, using a substitute plant (Araujia sericifera – noxious weed – not to be planted) which I found growing elsewhere in our town, and let the caterpillars eat it to death.

    So that’s what I’ve been doing – hope this helps. What have otehrs of you been doing?


Viewing 8 replies - 1 through 8 (of 8 total)
  • Author
  • #58676


    Hi everyone

    Have had a request for information from a school and I do NOT feel I have enough technical knowledge to advise them so – if you have a butterfly house (or houses) I would appreciate your input. It is SO difficult to advise when different species have different requirements and then there are different regions too!

    Anyway, here are the questions with (my thoughts).

    Enclosure requirements:

    Minimum dimensions?

    Caterpillars can be raised in a shoebox (or our caterpillar castles or similar) but for a school I would imagine being able to have 3-4 children walk around inside would be ideal. And, if you were to use it to raise plants in during the “downtime”, probably 2 m x 3m.

    Temperature, Humidity requirements?

    Once again, this differs depending on what you’re rearing, but you do need good airflow and humidity.

    What kind of weather-proofing required? (i.e,. should they be protected from wind, rain, etc?)

    Not in New Zealand as you’re only raising NZ species – but the butterfly house should be sited out of high wind, e.g. not where wind will be funneled.

    Light levels (day/night)?

    Good sunlight. Butterflies go into their overwintering stage when light levels (day length) are too low and/or the temperatures drop. If you wanted to extend the season you would address light/warmth.

    Seasonal timeline and length of life (phases too)?

    Depends on the species. The monarch in sub-tropical regions is about 5 days for the egg, 14 days larva, 10 days pupa – so about a month.

    Admirals: 10 – ? – 20

    Honshu white admirals: 7 – 40 – 7

    Coppers: ?

    Blues: ?

    Any requirements for proximity to ground? Are they happy in trees/up 3 stories if (somehow) their food was growing up there?

    Some species are forest dwellers, and need to be flying above their host plants to lay eggs. Japanese honeysuckle (for the Honshu white admirals) is a climber, so ideally needs to have some height.

    Butterfly details:

    Butterfly species and lifecycle timeline?

    See above

    What is ideal food (as caterpillar/as butterfly)?

    Host plants (food for caterpillars) as below:

    Monarch: Milkweed e.g. swan plant, tropical milkweed

    Admirals: Stinging nettle

    Honshu white admirals: Japanese honeysuckle

    Coppers: Muehlenbeckia spp.

    Blues: Clover, trefoil and other Fabaceae spp. Long-tailed blue on brooms (Cytisus spp.)

    Nectar species for the adults – many lists on our website – perennials better value than annuals. Here is a good list of natives which includes host plants.

    How should water be available?

    The plants will need watering daily unless it’s raining, and at the same time the area can be misted using a hand-held spray (water).

    Smells? (problem smells, like perfumes, etc)

    Nothing should smell, but you sure learn to smell when things are going wrong. I have no documented evidence but I am certain that I can smell milkweed when it’s too dry, and also disease when I have overcrowding in the butterfly house. It’s a good observation skill to develop (which I teach my WWOOFers) “What can you smell?” Some people can smell ants, others can’t. Human beings used to rely on this sense as much as the others – but we seem to have lost it over the years.

    Butterflies need colourful flowers – their sight is good but limited so they see a mass of flowers rather than an individual inconspicuous flower. Moths on the other hand rely more on scent and cream or white flowers (as they’re looking for nectar at night).

    Maximum number of caterpillars per plant?

    Impossible to calculate.

    Should there be a distance from people?

    No – but children should be supervised. Milkweed IS poisonous in that if a drop of sap got in your eye, it causes major problems (only temporary, fortunately). Stinging nettle of course stings. A dock plant growing nearby is a good antidote.

    List of predators?

    The main ones are social/paper wasps, praying mantises, ants (steal eggs), soldier bugs, chalcid wasp Pteromalus puparum. 180 species of tachinid fly in NZ which lay eggs inside caterpillars, caterpillar dies as it “feeds” the fly, fly emerges, mates, and lays more eggs.

    A good maxim is to have no other moving life in the butterfly house – just caterpillars/butterflies.

    Other parasites? (and known deterrents)

    Aphids on milkweed create additional problems. Then there can be unseen problems like pathogens. A long list… but as such a list doesn’t exist. There are lists of course from overseas, but many of those viruses etc are not in NZ… and there are probably some that we don’t know about.

    A major deterrent, however, is when people buy plants that have been sprayed – and often the garden centre staff member is unaware. The caterpillars die. Best to grow your own plants and hope the “neighbour” or Council etc doesn’t spray.

    Is there a minimum mesh size (what is smallest predator)?

    A small parasitic wasp. Ideally mesh needs to be 0.6 mm

    Black is better to see into than white. But walk-in, white gives more light.



    Those of you who have butterfly houses – what further suggestions would you make for improvements? Please share what you have, how it was made, what function it serves (do you use it to grow plants, protect from wasps, etc. Would you do this again – or do it differently?

    Would be appreciated. Having inquiries from schools!



    Hi all,
    planning on building a butterfly house tomorrow based around a double door aviary similar to this one listed on trademe.
    Will post pictures once it is completed.
    cheers Stu



    Hi Jacqui & Swansong,

    Thanks. Hubby worked so hard on this for me. The xmas lights were late going up because of it. LMAO:-).

    VEry interesting some of those ideas Jacqui.




    There are some more ideas here:



    Wow Flutterbys! Great little enclosure!.



    Great photos – there’s some great ideas there. Thanks for sharing, Charlotte.



    Hi Jacqui,

    Hubby built me my butterfly house underneath my deck. We just closed off an area underneath and put up some old ranchslider windows we had managed to score off trademe.
    We have put bridal netting down the window and shall put bird netting down the other glass windows shortly.
    He has put plastic on the roof of it, which we will cover with shadecloth and the back wall. We then take one of our feeding stock plants and move it into here for the big pillars to munch on. Then once they hatch I release from here.
    Pics are on flickr if anyone wants to look.


Viewing 8 replies - 1 through 8 (of 8 total)

You must be logged in to reply to this topic.