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Collecting Equipment Projects, Ideas and Sources

Sleeves for rearing Lepidoptera larvae on live plants

Host plant cuttings are commonly used to feed larvae in containers while in captivity. However, caring for captive larvae can be very time consuming, and the confined living conditions can increase the chance of disease.

Ideally, larvae should be raised in a natural outdoor environment, where a continuous supply of fresh (live and growing) food and air are present. Larvae need to be confined to the host plant to prevent escape, and protected from the many kinds of predators looking for a free meal. A strong, flexible, air and moisture-permeable netting, with a very fine mesh is a good solution for the job.

This technique is known as "sleeving" the larvae on the host plant. A simple tube of netting is slipped onto a branch of the host plant (or sometimes the entire plant), the larvae are introduced onto the branch, and then the ends of the tube are tied closed with twine, cable ties, etc.

Sleeves can be purchased ready to use, or made at home with a few yards of netting and a sewing machine. I opted for an adhesive solution instead of sewing, to save time and effort. Here's some basic coverage of the project...

Selecting a fabric:

I hunted high and low for a suitable netting. It needed to be strong, tightly woven, UV resistant, air/water permeable, and cost effective. The only suitable products I could find came from Bio-Quip. For testing, I selected the off-white Dacron Chiffon, 60" wide, $6.55 per linear yard ( product # 7250C) and the green polyester ( product # 7250B) which is 42" wide and $3 per linear yard.

Other materials may also work well - let me know if you find any great deals!

Preparing the materials:

I decided to use the green netting for the bulk of this documentation. For a sleeve that is about 8" in diameter, I multiplied Pi (3.14) x 8 to come up with roughly 25" of material needed. A 48" straight edge is shown for scale.

I used DAP "ALEX PLUS" Acrylic Latex Caulk Plus Silicon (about $2 at home depot) and a caulking gun (available at most $1 stores) for the adhesive.

I cut a number of 1.5"-wide (more or less) strips of waxed paper to act as a backing to prevent the adhesive from making a mess. I folded the netting in half, length-wise, and laid it alongside the wax paper strips on a flat working surface.

Applying the adhesive:

With the waxed-paper strip UNDER the netting, I applied a bead of caulking on top of the folded edges of the netting as shown...

...and then worked it in with my finger. Note that it's important to apply a good thick coat that fully penetrates both layers of netting, all the way to the waxed paper below. Note where the waxed-paper strips overlap to prevent caulking from getting everywhere.

Then I hung it up to dry. In reasonably warm and dry conditions, it should "dry" enough to handle in a few hours, and fully dry overnight.

The finished product:
After drying all night, I slowly and carefully peeled the waxed-paper strip off of the caulking to reveal the finished product.

Dacron Chiffon:

I used the same method with the Dacron Chiffon material, except that I went for a larger diameter sleeve. Here are a couple of shots

More pics to come of the sleeve(s) in use...

Have success or failure with this or a similar project? let me know!

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