How to Make Artificial Painted Lady Caterpillar Food

Did you know that painted lady caterpillars need a host plant to survive? If you’re looking to help these beautiful creatures, learn to make artificial painted lady caterpillar food. It’s easy and only takes a few simple ingredients! Not only will the caterpillars appreciate your efforts, but you can take pride in knowing that you’re helping to keep them safe and healthy.

How to Make Artificial Painted Lady Caterpillar Food

To keep your painted lady caterpillars healthy and happy, you need to provide them with food. This guide will teach you how to make artificial painted lady caterpillar food using common household ingredients. Making your food is a cost-effective way to ensure that your caterpillars have everything they need to grow and thrive. Plus, it’s a fun project for the whole family! So let’s get started!

What is a Painted Lady Caterpillar?

Painted lady caterpillars are the larvae of painted lady butterflies, a common species found in many parts of the world. These caterpillars are often used in classrooms and homes for educational purposes, as they go through their metamorphosis relatively quickly. This makes them great subjects for observing the life cycle of a butterfly up close!

You can easily attract painted lady butterflies to your home by planting their preferred host plants, which include asters, thistles, and mallows. But if you don’t have access to these plants or want to supplement their natural diet, making artificial caterpillar food is a great option.

What Tools and Materials You’ll Need:

1. Two Clear Plastic Cups:

It’s best to use small clear plastic cups as they are easy to clean and monitor the caterpillars’ food intake.

2. Plastic Wrap:

You will require a small piece of plastic wrap to cover one of the plastic cups with food inside, trapping moisture for later consumption.

3. A Microwave:

Although not required, using a microwave will make the process faster and more efficient.

4. Water:

Make sure you use bottled or distilled water to prevent any harmful chemicals from entering the caterpillar’s food supply.

5. Sugar:

The main ingredient in your artificial painted lady caterpillar food is sugar, as it provides the necessary nutrients for their growth and development.

6. Honey:

Honey is a great addition to the food mixture as it adds essential minerals and vitamins for the caterpillars.

7. Artificial Sweetener:

If you don’t have honey on hand, you can use an artificial sweetener as a substitute. Just make sure it doesn’t contain any harmful chemicals or additives.

8. Blender:

You will need a blender to mix and blend all the ingredients together into a smooth paste.

Step-by-Step Guide: How to Make Artificial Painted Lady Caterpillar Food

Step 1:

Pour two cups of dirt into each clear plastic cup. The dirt will act as a substrate in the food mixture and provide extra nutrients for the caterpillars. You can also use paper towels or cotton balls as an alternative to dirt. It’s best to use a substrate that is easy to clean and replace. The substrate will also absorb excess moisture, preventing mold from forming.

Step 2:

Make the sugar water mixture by mixing one tablespoon of sugar with five tablespoons of water in one small bowl and then add four drops of green food coloring (please note that if you want a darker shade, add more drops). This food coloring will help to stimulate the caterpillar’s natural diet, giving them a more similar experience to eating their usual host plants.

Step 3:

Mix your sugar-water mixture well and then put it into the other clear plastic cup. If you are using a microwave to heat the mixture, make sure to do so in short intervals and stir in between. This step will help dissolve the sugar quickly. You can also heat the sugar-water mixture on a stove using a pot. It’s essential to heat the mixture just enough so that the sugar dissolves completely.

The Sugar-water Mixture

Step 4:

Set up one of your cups with dirt in front of the other cup, and then place a piece of paper towel over the top to cover both cups (not too tight). It’s best to place the food cup with the paper towel at a bit of an angle so that the moisture that accumulates in the dirt can drain into the bottom cup. It’s important to keep the food and dirt cups separate to prevent any contamination.

Step 5:

Poke five small holes into the paper towel on top of both cups: two near the top, two near the bottom, and one in the middle of the paper towel. These holes will allow for proper airflow, keeping the food from molding and providing oxygen for the caterpillars. You can use a toothpick or a small stick to make the holes.

Step 6:

Place your cup of dirt with the sugar water mixture on top of the clear plastic cup with dirt underneath it (a paper towel covers it). You may need to adjust the position of your second cup so that you can fit both cups under the same paper towel. The paper towel acts as a divider between the two cups, allowing moisture to pass through while keeping the food an appropriate distance from the dirt.

Step 7:

Place your painted lady caterpillar in the dirt and then give him about two tablespoons of water (make sure that you do not put too much water, or it can kill your little guy). You will need to check on your little critter every day; he may eat the fleshy parts of the leaf, so you will need to cut off the leaves that are starting to get eaten. If there are any mold spots on your leaf, pick it up and replace it with a fresh one right away.

Step 8:

Continue doing this every day for two weeks or until your caterpillar has turned into a chrysalis (it can take about four days for a caterpillar to turn into a chrysalis). You can then transfer the chrysalis into a mesh cage or a jar with some twigs and leaves so that they have something to hang on once they emerge from their chrysalis. After about 10 days, your painted lady butterfly will emerge, and you can release them into the wild!

Step 9:

Once your chrysalis has formed for about two weeks or until it’s been transformed into a butterfly. Slowly pull back the paper towel to ensure that you do not disturb your little guy as he is trying to get his wings out of its casing. You can then move him to his pot or cage and watch as he unfolds. It takes about 40 minutes for them to get their wings ready for flight.

It Will Transform Into a Butterfly

Step 10:

Once he has his wings, you can release him outside. If you do not want to remove him, you can keep him in the jar and put him on display. It’s best to feed your butterfly every day until it’s released. You can also include some flowers in the jar for them to perch on and get nectar from.

Step 11:

Congratulations! You have successfully made artificial painted lady caterpillar food and watched them transform into beautiful butterflies. Remember to clean the cups and replace the substrate regularly to ensure a healthy and sustainable environment for your caterpillars. Enjoy the process and have fun learning more about these fascinating creatures!  Keep in mind that this guide can also be used for other types of caterpillars; just adjust the ingredients to match their natural diet. Happy butterfly raising!

Following the steps in this guide, you will be able to create a safe and nutritious food source for your painted lady caterpillars. Not only will you enjoy watching them grow and transform into butterflies, but you will also learn more about their unique life cycle and behaviors. You can even invite friends and family to join in on the experience, spreading awareness about these beautiful insects and their important role in our ecosystem. So why not try making your own artificial painted lady caterpillar food and embark on a fun and educational journey?  Keep exploring and discovering the wonders of nature. 

Some Tips and Suggestions:

1. A cup of sugar to two cups of water, boiled and cooled thoroughly, should give you about 1/2 gallon (or 2 quarts) of nectar.

2. Do not use honey or any other type of sweetener except for table sugar; it will quickly kill the caterpillars if you do so.

3. The container needs to be changed daily or sometimes even twice to avoid mold growth.

4. A single larva can consume 10 milliliters of food in one day, so if you have lots of larvae, check the amount twice a day and increase the recipe accordingly.

5. This is not the same stuff painted ladies will lay eggs on. It is just a food source. Larvae will eat this and then be weaned onto the real things in captivity.

6. Carrots contain essential oils that repel painted lady caterpillars and many other species of butterflies and moths, so they should only be used as an additive and not eaten entirely by large numbers of larvae.

What Makes the Food Eatable for Larger Caterpillars?

The sugar-water mixture makes being in the dirt more bearable, so they do not try to get out. It also gives them nutrients that are not in the dirt alone. For example, there is a rose chafer beetle that eats rose bushes, and when their larvae overeat the plant they kill, it can weaken the rose bushes so much that not enough energy is produced for the tree to live.

Butterfly larvae eat only leaves and damage plants more than beetles do. The artificial food is given to caterpillars includes sugar, water, honeydew (a liquid waste product of insects such as aphids and scales), and a very thin coating of brown dirt. Since the bigger caterpillars eat more, they need to be fed more, usually given five or six days per week.

What Kind of Plants Do Painted Lady Caterpillars Eat?

Painted Lady caterpillars eat plants in the milkweed family, mainly milkweed and dogbane. You may not have any of those near you, but don’t worry! All types of butterfly larvae will eat almost any kind of leafy green plant, including cabbage (Brassica oleracea), lettuce (various species), spinach (Spinacia oleracea), cauliflower, mustard greens, radish (Raphanus sativus) and green beans (Phaseolus vulgaris).

Caterpillars will also eat herbaceous plants that are not necessarily leafy greens, such as dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) and clover (Trifolium species) if you are interested in knowing how to make artificial painted lady caterpillar food then consider reading this full blog post.

How Do You Make Artificial Milkweed?

First, take the floral wire (the kind used for flowers) and cut it into 4-inch pieces. Next, make a loop at one end of the wire and twist the loop shut with needle-nose pliers. It would help if you now had something that looked like small keychain rings. After you’ve made your “keychain rings,” take a sharpened pencil and stick it through the loop, leaving about an inch of wire below the circle.

Make Artificial Milkweed

Poke the pencil until it pierces all layers of bark. Push down on the bark to make sure you’ve pierced all layers before twisting the end shut again with needle-nose pliers. Finally, hang your homemade milkweed from a branch of a small tree or shrub in your backyard. If you don’t have a small tree or shrub, use some twist-ties to attach your milkweed to whatever is around. The caterpillars will love it! Make lots and lots because the more there are, the faster they’ll reproduce.

Tips for Butterfly Gardens:

1. Butterflies eat a diet rich in sugars that are a high-energy food, so they can fly from flower to flower.

2. When you have a butterfly garden, plant flowers known as butterfly attractor plants. These provide nectar with the correct pH balance for butterflies to feed on.

3. Try planting perennial plants with a long blooming season so butterflies can lay eggs and feed on flowers for a longer period.

4. Plant native plants that attract butterflies native to your area or region.

5. Provide a water source near the butterfly garden so butterflies have a place to drink and lay eggs.

6. Natural host plants provide an environment where larvae will feed on leaves from those specific plants before they develop into adult butterflies and leave. Therefore, it is important to plant host plants, such as milkweed and butterfly weed, for this butterfly’s life cycle stage.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Q: Is It Safe to Feed My Pets This Kind of Food?

A: Yes! Painted lady caterpillar food is safer than other artificial food options as it contains no dyes or colorings. Additionally, it is made from pure organic fruits and vegetables, which are safe to eat. However, this food is not for human consumption because of its low nutritional value and potentially harmful pieces such as green pepper seeds or apple stems.

Q: What Kind of Food is It?

A: Painted lady caterpillars eat various organic fruits and vegetables, some of them edible to humans. This food blend includes rose petals, nasturtium leaves, flowers, vetch flowers, flower buds from fennel plants (Foeniculum vulgare), dill, wild strawberry, and red clover, garden cress flowers (Lepidium sativum), violet flower petals, and butterfly weed flowers.

Q: Where Do Painted Ladies (Thistle Butterflies) Come From?

A: In the early spring, painted lady butterflies from Mexico will fly up into the US or sometimes go further north. They love to stick their proboscis in flowers and get a drink of nectar before they continue across the country. After leaving, they lay eggs on milkweed plants with milky white sap stems.

Butterflies Love to Stick With Their Proboscis in Flower

After about 4-7 days, the eggs will hatch, and tiny black caterpillars with white spots will emerge. Soon after that, they will start eating all of the milkweed surrounding them and grow and grow and grow. They shed their skin multiple times as they do so to keep up with their growth!

Q: How Can I Help Painted Lady Butterflies in My Area?

A: There are several ways you can help painted lady butterflies in your area:

  1. Plant a butterfly garden with native plants and milkweed, making sure to provide a water source.
  2. Educate others about the importance of butterflies and their role in the ecosystem.
  3. Avoid using pesticides and herbicides that can harm butterflies and their habitat.
  4. Participate in citizen science projects that monitor butterfly populations and migration patterns.
  5. Support conservation efforts to protect butterfly habitats and promote sustainable practices.

By taking these small steps, we can all contribute to the survival of painted lady butterflies and other species that rely on them for pollination and food sources.


If you’re looking for a fun and engaging science project, look no further than this one. You can create your own artificial painted lady caterpillar food that is healthy and delicious! Or, if you want to skip the DIY part altogether, we have our homemade sweetened almond butter mixture recipe on sale in-store now.

The larvae get fed until they turn into pupae before emerging as adult butterflies. As with any arts-and-crafts activity involving knives or scissors, make sure kids are supervised by an adult at all times while working on their project. We hope this article on how to make artificial painted lady caterpillar food has helped you see this delicious food through a different lens, one that opens up endless possibilities for exploration in nature.

You can also check out to Get Rid of Artificial Sweetener Aftertaste

Jennifer Branett
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