Butterfly and Bee Garden

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Butterfly on outside of Butterfly Terrarium

Butterfly Terrarium- How to Clean and Reuse to Grow Butterflies

Butterfly terrariums are popular among nature enthusiasts as they offer an opportunity to observe the beauty of butterflies up close. These enclosed habitats not only provide a safe environment for the butterflies to thrive in but also offer an educational experience for children and adults alike. If you own a butterfly terrarium and want to reuse it, it is important to properly clean and maintain it to ensure the safety and well-being of your future butterfly inhabitants. In this article, we will discuss the steps you need to take to clean and maintain your butterfly terrarium for reuse.

The Importance of Cleaning and Sanitizing Your Butterfly Terrarium


Girl Watching Butterflies emerge in Butterfly TerrariumA butterfly terrarium can be reused, but proper cleaning and sanitizing are crucial to prevent the spread of parasites and diseases that can decimate a butterfly population. There are five clear stages to follow when you’re preparing to reuse a terrarium:


  1. All remaining food and debris should be removed and this includes any old flowers or plants that are contaminated with bacteria or dried out.
  2. The terrarium should be thoroughly washed with warm soapy water and the surfaces must be agitated with a scrub brush to remove any dirt or debris deposits.
  3. The terrarium can be rinsed with hot water to remove soap residue and then it can be dried completely with a clean towel.
  4. Prepare a solution of 10% bleach and 90% clean water in a trigger spray applicator and apply it to the surfaces. Leave it to sit for around 10 minutes, rinse again with hot water and leave it to air dry.
  5. When the terrarium is dry it’s time to add the new flowers and plants for the new butterflies.

The butterfly terrarium is now a clean and healthy environment for the new butterfly inhabitants.

Setting Up Your Caterpillar Habitat


Caterpillars in Butterfly Terrarium

Caterpillars that are found in the wild need a habitat if you want to watch them transform into a butterfly. A small aquarium or large glass jar works well for this purpose if the lid is secure and fresh air can get into the vessel. Many people use a mesh covering or cheesecloth to keep the area secure and provide plenty of fresh air.



Adding some host plant leaves from where you found the caterpillar with some sticks to crawl on and grass at the bottom is ideal. All caterpillars want fresh leaves and you will need to change them on a daily basis. You don’t need to put water in the habitat because caterpillars get all their hydration from the fresh leaves they eat.


Mail Order Caterpillars


If you received your caterpillars in the mail, you don’t need to remove them from the cup they arrived in. But, you can create that larger habitat with your butterfly terrarium which makes observation easier for you and your kids. The caterpillars get some extra space to explore and cups of food can be put out at the bottom for feeding.


With sufficient volumes of food, you will be amazed at the speed of growth. Those tiny caterpillars will transform into fat caterpillars in next to no time. A hatchling kit will contain caterpillars that will stay in that stage of life for around 5-10 days. During this period, you will see the caterpillars triple in size and you may imagine that they will be purely eating machines.


But, if you watch closely you will see them explore their surroundings, practice spinning silk, and interacting with each other. The caterpillars will shed their skin as they grow and you will see some fuzzy body segments. The habitat container should be kept close to room temperature and it needs to be out of direct sunlight. If the terrarium becomes too hot it will cause overheating issues and a buildup of condensation in the habitat.


The Transformation From Caterpillar to Butterfly


caterpillars hang upside down in a J-shape when ready to form the chrysalis

When the caterpillars are large and fat and ready to make their transformation to butterflies you will see them climbing to the top of the habitat. They will attach themselves to the top with silk strands to support the chrysalis.

The caterpillars hang upside down in a J-shape which means they are ready to form the chrysalis. A thin outer layer of skin is shed and at this stage, it’s extremely important to avoid any disturbances to the container habitat.



What to do When the Caterpillars have Formed into a Chrysalis


When all the caterpillars have formed a chrysalis you need to wait at least 24 hours before you transfer them into a hatching habitat. When you move them, pick up the entire lid, don’t detach the chrysalises, and be very careful to prevent any disturbances to attached silk webbing strands.

The lid can be rested against the habitat side with the chrysalises hung down flat against it. A fine mist of water can be sprayed on them once per day to add some moisture. This simulates rainfall, but you need to be careful to avoid over watering.


When the Butterfly Starts to Emerge


Caterpillar transformation stages to butterfly

As the butterfly gets close to emerging, the chrysalis will become darker and it may even shake as they get closer to emerging. A red liquid may be seen, this is meconium and what you’re seeing is the first poop of the adult butterfly. The butterflies will emerge from the chrysalises in around 7-10 days.



This is the ideal time to spend time with your kids and they get to see a butterfly metamorphosis in real time. When the butterfly emerges from the chrysalis, it can’t fly, it needs time to stretch its wings and strengthen them. This is when the butterfly pushes blood into its veins to prepare the wings for flight. In a few hours, the wings will be unfolded full, they are dried out and harder for flying.


Watermelon with butterflies in Butterfly TerrariumAt this time, it’s natural to feel some attachment to the butterflies because you’ve seen them go through the entire transition. But, you should only keep them for one to two days for observation before they are released into the wild.

Read more information about what to do before releasing your Butterflies back into nature.


Have some food in the terrarium habitat, such as strawberries, watermelon, cut oranges, and some sugar water. A new butterfly will appreciate some food that they can eat through their proboscis and they can taste it with their feet!


Conclusion-How Clean and Maintain a Butterfly Terrarium


In conclusion, reusing a butterfly terrarium can be a rewarding and educational experience, but it’s important to take the necessary steps to ensure the safety and well-being of your future butterfly inhabitants. By following our step-by-step guide, you can properly clean and maintain your butterfly terrarium to create a healthy and thriving habitat for your butterflies.


Regularly cleaning and maintaining the terrarium will not only keep your butterflies safe and healthy but also provide a great opportunity for observation and learning. Remember to always prioritize the needs of your butterflies by providing them with fresh food, water, and a clean and well-maintained habitat.


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