Transferring eggs and caterpillars to new milkweed plants

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  • #55010


    Kia ora kouto, butterfly enthusiasts.

    I’m sorry if this has been addressed before (I’m sure it has!), but what is the safest way to transfer eggs and caterpillars between plants?

    I imagine that with the eggs you cut the bit of the leaf with the egg on it? Do you stick them to the new plant or wait for the eggs to eclode and then transfer the caterpillars? And With the caterpillars, is it even safe for them to be picked up by hand?

    Thanks in advance for your help!

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  • #55790


    Belated thanks to all who responded! Great ideas 🙂

    Thank you Jacqui, for the videos.



    Can’t find my video but here are two others…



    I hate wasting leaves, so gently put my thumb on the egg on the leaf and my pointer finger underneath the leaf. I then roll my thumb around ever so gently until I feel the egg lift off. These are put onto an ever so slightly damp (misted) tissue in a takeaway food container (incubator) with a sprig of swan plant which is in a floral tube. I check these daily and then transfer the caterpillars using a very soft makeup brush (sable) As I touch the 1st instar caterpillar I twist the brush and it attaches itself to the very soft bristles. Then I paste the caterpillar onto where I want it to go.

    If there are more than a few caterpillars have hatched, I sometimes move the whole sprig of swan plant to the new plant, lying it across the top, and put a new sprig in the “incubator”.

    I have taught this technique to many people and even though at first they think they might squash an egg, we haven’t lost many – maybe two in all the years we’ve done it. I have also made a video of it… but not sure where that can be found now. 🙂

    Hope that helps.


    Ruth Baird

    Thank you! I have transferred small caterpillars, but not eggs. I have noticed that eggs can disappear, as well as very small caterpillars, so it’s obviously better to rescue them to safety at the earliest possible stage.
    Ruth Baird, Titirangi



    Easiest way for eggs is to lay the leaf containing the egg onto a secure spot on the plant, or use a pin to attach the piece of leaf onto a plant leaf, preferably near the top of the plant. When the caterpillar hatches it will transfer itself to its own preferred position. With small caterpillars an artist brush can be used to pick up and transfer them, but I prefer to let them transfer themselves by placing the leaf/branch they are on directly onto a fresh plant. The problem with transferring them with a brush is that if the caterpillar is in the process of moulting, moving them at that stage will probably kill them. Only if they are feeding or moving is it safe to do so.

    Handling caterpillars is not recommended as it is possible to transfer contaminants and bacteria to them. which can be fatal.

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