Raising a Long-tailed Skipper Butterfly

Rolled Leaf

Caterpillar Inside

Early Stage Caterpillar

Late Stage Caterpillar


Long-tailed Skipper

One of the side effects from our small vegetable garden this year has been the insects that it attracted. This coincided nicely with my interest in bugs and how to photograph them. I’ve posted many of the images on BugGuide.net, a fantastic website.

Our green bean plants attracted several bugs, the most interesting of which was a a small caterpillar that would roll up little curls of the bean leaf and hide while it nibbled on the leaves. After some research to figure out what it was, I discovered that it was common on bean plants. The caterpillar is known as a bean leafroller, and it becomes a butterfly called the long-tailed skipper. The Latin name is Urbanus proteus. An excellent writeup is found on this University of Florida page.

I decided to capture a caterpillar and raise it. I placed it in a small screened-in container and kept it supplied with fresh green bean leaves from the garden. On occasion I would remove the dried-up leaves and the frass (caterpillar droppings). The caterpillar was probably nocturnal as I didn’t see much activity in the day, but in the morning it was obvious that the caterpillar had been all over the container. It was neat to watch it develop from a ½-inch (1.27cm) caterpillar to nearly an inch (2.54cm). As the caterpillar grew, it developed red “eyes” on its black head. As the caterpillar got close to pupating, the whole head started to get reddish.

After a couple weeks, I looked in to find that the caterpillar had pupated inside the leaves. I had put some sticks in expecting it to make its pupa by dangling from a stick, but I should have paid closer attention to the writeup, which states: “the larva pupates on the plant, within the shelter formed by the larva from leaf material.”

The pupa stage lasted about 10 days. During the steady downpour we got from Hurricane Frances here in upstate South Carolina, I went out to the garage and found that my container now held an adult long-tailed skipper. It was active and ready to fly when I saw it. My attempt to photograph it failed, and it fluttered away quickly into the rain. The adult image here was taken by Troy Bartlett and is used under the Creative Commons license. All of my images in this writeup are available under the same license. Click to see the larger versions on the BugGuide site.

This was a fun and easy project, and a good way to understand the life stages of a butterfly.