Red-spotted Purples are waking up

Red-spotted Purple caterpillar on its first walkabout, April 15, 2013. Notice its hibernaculum, the home where if safely survived winter.

It’s Spring

It’s spring and Red-spotted Purple caterpillars are venturing out of their winter hibernaculums.  Partially grown caterpillars created these safe retreats last fall by silking a tiny leaf shut, silking the leaf to the tree, then crawling inside and going to sleep for the winter.  All the other leaves fell from Black Cherry trees and Beach Plum bushes, but the hibernaculum leaves remained still attached – a tell-tale sign to a keen naturalist that some creature might be inside.

From late June on this lovely butterly is a regular in our garden, especially if we maintain a dish of gooey fruit – which they favor over flower nectar


As temperatures warm, these teeny tiny caterpillars (about one-quarter inch long) are venturing forth, sunning in the warmth and looking for tasty buds on their host plant (Black Cherry, Beach Plum, . . .).

To learn more about the neat life history of this stunning butterfly, read my April post on Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens.

How to Build a Butterfly House

Mourning Cloak – survive winter as an adult

Around homes, as treasured wood piles are dismantled for firewood over the course of a winter, possibly quite a few Mourning Cloaks, Question Marks, and Commas are disturbed from their slumber on brutally cold winter days and meet their demise.

To ensure the survival of these unique butterflies that overwinter as adults, consider building a Butterfly House.

Our butterfly house



Learn how easy it is to build a Butterfly House by reading my latest column at Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens.

Hibernaculum: Winter Home to Red-spotted Purple

Partially grown Red-spotted Purple caterpillar preparing its hibernaculum (winter home)

On September 23, 2012, I watched one of the very last Red-spotted Purples in the garden. It danced around the Beach Plums and I thought it must be laying eggs. I looked closely at leaf after leaf, zeroing in on the very tip where Red-spotted Purples carefully lay their jewel-like egg, but could find none.

As I scrutinized the leaves I spotted a different treasure than expected – a teeny-tiny caterpillar silking a bit of leaf to the branch and silking the leaf curled shut.

I stepped back from the Beach Plum, looked at the bush as a whole, and noticed other similar leaves .   I knew just what I was looking at, though I’d never seen one before – a nearly completed HIBERNACULUM, where a partially grown Red-spotted Purple caterpillar would winter, hopefully safely.

Learn about the complete life cycle of the Red-spotted Purple and how they survive the winter in my latest column at Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens, where fellow long-time wildlife gardeners share what we’ve learned over years of sometimes painful trial and error.