This time of year we get frantic calls from the public:
“There’s a butterfly in my house! How did it get here?! What do I do with it?!”
Some species of butterfly overwinter in the chrysalis stage, and often the chrysalis has somehow made its way inside – perhaps on a plant that’s been brought in for the winter or on a Christmas tree or other cut foliage.
Once inside, the warmer temperature signals to the butterfly inside the chrysalis that it needs to speed through its development and emerge, “thinking” that spring must be here because it’s so warm! Suddenly a winged, adult butterfly is flapping around inside the house, and there’s still snow on the ground.
Onto the next question – what do I do with it?
First, you need to determine that the winged creature you’ve found is actually one that overwinters as a chrysalis. Please send us an email if you need help identifying it – our Naturalist can be reached at email@example.com.
If it’s a species that overwinters as a chrysalis (common ones are the Black Swallowtail and the Polyphemus moth, pictured below), then the butterfly will probably only live a couple weeks, which is typical of an adult butterfly. You can keep it warm, feed it nectar (a sugar/water solution), and have it as an indoor guest for awhile if you wish.
Believe it or not, some butterflies and moths overwinter as adults! The Mourning Cloak and Comma are examples (pictured below). These species can be returned to a sheltered place somewhere in a forest so it can go back into dormancy for the rest of the winter and re-awaken in the spring.