Where can I find eggs and/or caterpillars? Well, IF you plant the right plants, THEN the butterflies will find you and soon you will have eggs and caterpillars in your own garden!
The important thing to remember is this: in your garden you need to have both HOST plants and NECTAR plants. Now, some host plants are also nectar plants so they do 'double duty.'
What's the difference between 'host' and 'nectar' plants?
Let's start with nectar plants since most people already have these in their gardens. The Buddleia pictured at the top, with the little Skipper butterfly nectaring on it is a great nectar plant. Nectar plants are those plants that produce a sweet liquid from the flower blossoms or nectaries.
Many adult butterflies rely on the nectar as an extra fuel source to help them fly and/or for mating purposes. Here is a male Queen (Danaus gilippus) who just adores the Mexican Flame Vine. Now, not all butterflies are nectar-seekers like him; some prefer tree sap…but, most garden centers and nurseries will have nectar-rich plants in their 'butterfly garden' sections. Those butterflies like the Mourning Cloak, can often be found around sap-rich trees in parks. So, keep this in mind! The bottom line: the key to getting and finding eggs and caterpillars is having host plants.
Host plants are those that butterflies will oviposit or lay eggs on. These are not always the same as 'nectar' plants although sometimes, as in the case of Milkweed, the blossoms produce a very sweet nectar that is delectable to nectar-seeking insects and birds. Having host plants in your garden is critical IF you want to have butterflies STAY around because these are the plants where they will leave their precious offspring!
Since a lot of folks already have nectar plants, what they need to plant in order to keep the butterflies around is the host plant. Now, any host plant will simply not do! Depending upon where you live and the climate as well as what butterflies are found in the area should determine what types of host plants should be purchased. The links about the specific butterfly species each provide information about what host plants each butterfly uses. Go back and re-read them if you live in the Southern California area. For those of you living in other parts of the United States, click here to link to the USGS Butterflies and Moths of North America website and find your state and county.
An important thing to remember about host plants is this: THINK like a BUTTERFLY and PLANT in GROUPS! Patches of a particular host plant is much more desirable than one plant here and one plant over there. For example, Monarchs have a keen sense of smell and are much more likely to find your garden if you have at least five Milkweed plants grouped together.
NOW you can go and start hunting for eggs and caterpillars.
Butterflies are SO specific about where they will oviposit. Knowing what the plant is will tell you what butterfly laid the egg (usually). Butterflies usually oviposit in particular places on plants, too. Monarchs generally lay on the undersides of leaves whereas Giant Swallowtails find tender new growth and lay on the tops toward the tips of leaves. But, like any person you know, each butterfly is unique and may surprise you.
Some mama butterflies are even creatures of habit and will oviposit in the same 'area' over and over and over again! I had a Monarch like one leaf so much she laid a LOT of eggs on it and books will tell you that Monarchs only lay ONE egg per leaf. Ha! Check out this picture…
With caterpillars, go out in the early morning hours or early evening to look on the host plants. Look for 'chew marks' on the leaves. This is a good indicator that you've got a little 'baby' somewhere nearby (or a grasshopper, maybe!).
Turn the leaves over and you might find yourself a prize. This one is a young Monarch larva on an Asclepias curassavica (Tropical Milkweed) leaf. That little hole seen on the leaf was the clue!
So, get out and get host plants planted in your garden. Trust me, butterflies will find them! (be patient…it does take time!)