Basic Overview – How to Raise Giant Silk Moths

Follow along as we learn to raise a variety of species of butterfly-like giant silk moths in the family Saturniidae (from the order Lepidoptera comprising butterflies and moths), a group of approximately 2300 species among the most spectacular flying creatures in the world!

Shown: Cecropia caterpillars (Hyalophora cecropia) raised on Rhus trilobata, also known as 3-leaf sumac.

RAISING GIANT SILK MOTHS with Vicky Oldham
Caterpillar help hotline: 928-282-4326

CONTAINERS:

Use boxes with very small air holes for just hatched, or 1st instar caterpillars. Place food plant in closed container with hole for plant (or caterpillars will drown).

Use butterfly cages for older caterpillars. Place food plant in a container with water that will not easily spill over and block caterpillar’s access to the water below (I use foam aquarium filter material OR use a water-filled plastic box with a top on, and punch holes for the plant stems to poke through. Caterpillar is now safe from drowning.

CHANGE CATERPILLARS TO NEW LEAVES:

ALWAYS cut the stem with the caterpillar still clinging to it… then place on top of the fresh leaves. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER pull the caterpillar off a leaf or stem. They are unbelievably fragile. Ripping them from a plant will damage the caterpillar’s exoskeleton and it won’t be able to molt to the next instar — and will die!

CLEAN CAGES OR BOXES DAILY – COLLECT NEW LEAVES:

  1. I use a solution of Clorox and water. Clorox at 7.5% sodium hypochlorite is used in a mixture of 29 parts water to 1 part Clorox. This comes out to 7 1/4 cup water to 1/4 cup Clorox. Don’t save your mixture for another day. Always use a fresh mix. Wear an apron and gloves. I put the Clorox mix in a spray bottle and have it set to “stream.” I spray on the boxes, cages and equipment and then let it sit from 3 to 5 minutes, then spray rinse with fresh, clear water. BE CAREFUL: DON’T ACCIDENTALLY SPRAY YOUR CLOROX MIX ON YOUR CATERPILLARS! If you have another spray bottle for misting the plants with water, be careful to mark your Clorox spray bottle differently. It’s easier than you think to make a mistake (I’ve done it in a rush, and fortunately caught myself just in time!).
  2. Use paper towel for the bottom of cages.
  3. Replace caterpillar food plant with fresh leaves daily; cut so stems are in water. Rinse leaves in clean water before offering to caterpillars (to make sure there are no spiders or other predators on the leaves). Block sides of water container with aquarium foam. I clean used aquarium foam with Clorox solution and double rinse, then dry, so it can be used again.
  4. I LIGHTLY spray filtered water on fresh leaves with caterpillars daily. Careful not to over-spray the caterpillars!
  5. If you know can’t get leaves for a few days, when you do collect leaves, you can place them UNWASHED in a ziplock bag and push all the air out, then make certain it is totally zipped tightly. Now place in crisper of refrigerator. Leaves can last for a month this way (sometimes longer). When you finally offer them to caterpillars, wash the leaves, clip the stems again and place in the water container. I sometimes take caterpillars in their cage or container on my RV vacation as long as I don’t have too many. I put the refrigerated leaves in the cooler or camper’s refrigerator. I change the caterpillars’ leaves every day or so and keep them out of direct sunlight. I also lightly mist them while in their containers with filtered water, especially if the air is too dry.

Note: Due to my location in northern Arizona, I NOW ONLY OFFER 3-LEAF SUMAC TO CATERPILLARS ALREADY STARTED ON THEM!
Known as skunkbush sumac or three-leaf sumac, caterpillars that have already started on this can not be switched! The plant’s scientific name is: Rhus trilobata.

HELPFUL TOOLS:

In addition to having a spray bottle (with filtered, unchlorinated water), paper towels and plastic bags on hand, I also use a few helpful tools to change the caterpillar’s fresh leaves every day. See the photo below.

Published by Vicky Oldham

Natural history enthusiast, professional artist 35+ years.

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