Top tips for looking after a caterpillar

Rearing caterpillars at home can be a fun and interactive activity for the whole family. Children get to follow the lifecycle of butterflies and moths as well as learning about food chains and how to care for living creatures.

Getting started

Visitors walking in the woodland at a National Trust site

What you will need:

A small tank, rearing cage, or old ice cream tub – no holes required but if there are holes make sure they are small enough to stop the caterpillars escaping; kitchen roll – to line the bottom of the tub and make it easy to clean; water spray (optional) and of course, caterpillars!

Children running across the grass

How to find them

Go on a caterpillar hunt – search your garden or nearby green spaces and places for caterpillars or eggs to collect and rear. The best places to look are under leaves with fresh bite marks, in amongst nettles, around vegetable patches, or in hedges.

Children on a bug hunt

What sort of caterpillar is it?

You'll need do an internet search or look in books to try and identify your caterpillars so that you can find out more about what they like to eat and what they will grow into.

A pale tussock moth caterpillar

Beware hairy caterpillars

Beware of hairy caterpillars – some hairy caterpillars can cause a nasty rash if you touch them. Although most will cause no harm at all, it’s best to steer clear of them anyway.

Purple emperor butterfly

Your pet for life?

The length of a butterfly or moths lifecycle depends on species and time of year. Some species go from being an egg to a full grown adult in just 4 weeks, but some can take over a year! This is something to keep in mind when you are raising caterpillars at home – if you have the space it would be great to have a few different species of caterpillar so the kids can see (and record) the differences between them.

Yellow meadow ant and chalkhill blue caterpillar

Looking after your caterpillar

Caterpillars need fresh food everyday. You will also need to clean them out regularly – old leaves and caterpillar poo can go mouldy and this can cause your caterpillar to get sick. Caterpillars get most of their water from leaves but they do like rain every now and then. Drip or spray a small amount of water in to their tank every few days. Once the caterpillar has pupated and emerged as a butterfly or moth you can release it in to your garden so it can find a mate and begin the cycle all over again.