Thursday, June 2, 2011

Why not Raise Red-Spotted Purples?

With so much attention placed on monarchs and painted ladies, I sometimes wonder why more folks from the Midwest and Eastern United States (or extreme SE Canada) do not consider raising red-spotted purples as well.  Not only are red-spotted purples (Limenitis astyanax astyanax) one of the more gorgeous butterflies from your area, but also, once you get the hang of rearing them, you've learned 90 percent of what it takes to find and raise viceroys as well. 

The first step to rear red-spotted purples is finding their habitat; which, many of you already know as  openings in wooded areas, gas or powerline right-of-ways, parks, forest edges, forest trails, mountain canyons, etc.

Their larval host plant is wild cherry (Prunus serotina).  Usually, the best time of year to find eggs and larvae of the red-spotted purple is during their last generation in late August and September when their numbers are usually are at their peak.  Females lay their eggs on the tips of wild cherry leaves and young larvae make conspicuous perches that you can train your eye to locate.  More.  (Also, another tip is to find eggs and larvae on isolated cherry trees within the heart of a population.)

Taking care of eggs and caterpillars of the red-spotted purple only requires that you place wild cherry cuttings in water and place in a bucket or semi-closed terrarium.  Replace cuttings and remove frass about every five days and keep second and third instar caterpillars under 24 hours of light a day; so that larvae avoid hibernation.

Also, for those of you more adventurous types, you can also collect live red-spotted purple females, cage them, and obtain dozens of eggs.  Click here for more information.  (If you live in Western North America, click here for strategies on rearing weidemeyer's admirals; here for Arizona purples; here for lorquin's admirals; or here for white admirals (ssp. rubrofasciata.) 

So, if you live in the Midwest or Eastern U.S. and enjoy treks into the woods during the late summer months, why not examine the tips of a few wild cherry leaves to see what you will find? 

To learn more about rearing red-spotted purples, please visit or email me if you have any questions.

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