Build a Butterfly Net
Butterflies are very delicate insects and their wings break very easily if touched. Their wings are made up of tiny scales that if damaged can cause the butterfly to lose its ability to fly, and ultimately die. It is therefore best to watch butterflies from a distance in their natural environment with binoculars or take pictures with your camera. The best binoculars to use are those of lower power (6× to 8× magnification) to allow focusing at close distance (5 to 6 feet).
With care, butterflies can be captured and placed in a clear bottle for very close-up observation. Although fragile, butterflies can be gently held by the thorax and then released unharmed. To catch a butterfly you'll need a net at least 24 inches deep, allowing you to trap a butterfly in the deep end of the net without harming it. The “bug” nets normally found at your local department store are not designed for butterflies and will most certainly damage them. Never attempt to catch rare or endangered butterflies. Follow Andy’s instructions on the right side of this page to make your own net.
Caterpillars are very susceptible to a variety of bacterial infections, including bacteria we all carry on our hands without knowing it. Be sure to always wash your hands thoroughly before handling the caterpillars. Caterpillars are also quite fragile creatures so handle them very gently. They can die if they are dropped even a very small distance. Never pull them off of any surface (including your hands), because they will often hold so tightly that you can rip their legs off before they will let go. Do not pick up caterpillars with branching spines! These spines can deliver a very painful sting. If a caterpillar seems lethargic or has changed color, do not handle it. It is probably preparing to molt or form a pupa.
How to find them:
Butterflies only fly during warm, sunny periods and become inactive when the clouds cover the sun or when it is cold. Most species are active between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. on warm sunny days. In late afternoon adults look for places to spend the night, usually at the tops of small trees, shrubs or other plants in order to avoid mice and early morning birds. When it rains, they roost alone under leaves or crawl into clumps of vegetation.
Most butterflies that live in cold climates spend the winter as caterpillars, while almost as many spend the winter as pupas. A few species spend the winter as adults, hibernating in holes in trees, in crevices in man-made structures, or in other shelters. A very few species spend the winter as eggs.
Making the Catch
Getting close to butterflies requires the development of certain skills. Butterflies, with their multi-faceted eyes, are capable of 180-degree vision, making it difficult to sneak up on them. It is always best to approach from behind while it’s eating and aptly distracted. Don’t wear brightly coloured clothing - instead wear brown and green.
Sweep the net forward quickly and flip the end of the net bag over the net handle after you catch a butterfly to prevent them from flying back out of the net. You want the butterfly in the deep end of the net. With one hand holding the handle, use the other hand to collapse the end of the net. There should be enough space at the deep end to prevent damage to the butterfly.
Once you make your catch, put your hands into the net and guide the butterfly into a bug jar and close the lid. If the butterfly won't settle in the pot, place it in the shade or another dark place to calm it down. Always release the butterfly back where you caught it.
What you’ll need:
- Large dowel, wooden broomstick handle cut to length, or other smooth wooden stick
- A sharp penknife to notch the wood – ask an adult or help!
- Wire hanger, or other "stiff" wire,for the rim of the net
- Wire, cord, or duct tape to fasten the rim to the handle
- Netting to make the bag (bridal veil material works well)
- Needle and thread
- Muslin fabric
- Drill – ask an adult for help!