What to do with hibernating butterflies in your house

December 17, 2014

in Gardening For Wildlife, Insects

Hibernating peacock and small tortoiseshell butterflies in houses-what to do

I often am asked what is the best way to deal with butterflies found hibernating in houses. This may be of interest.

Small Tortoiseshell Nurturing Nature

The small tortoiseshell butterfly may be found indoors overwintering

18 December 2012

The Red Admiral, which has become a common sight in British winters of late, doesn’t enter a proper dormancy but becomes active on any suitable days.

Among the butterflies, it is only the Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock that regularly overwinter inside houses. They come in during late summer/early autumn, when it is still warm outside and our houses appear to provide suitably cool, sheltered, dry conditions. However, come Christmas, when the central heating is cranked up, such butterflies may be awoken prematurely by high indoor temperatures. This presents a major problem for the butterfly as the outside weather conditions may be very hostile and there is little nectar available in gardens.

It is a problem for the concerned householder too. How best to help these poor confused butterflies unwittingly tricked into thinking spring has come early. The best solution is to rehouse the butterfly into a suitable location. Catch the butterfly carefully and place it into a cardboard box or similar, in a cool place for half and hour or so to see if it will calm down.

Once calmed down you might be able to gently encourage the sleepy butterfly out onto the wall or ceiling of an unheated room or building such as a shed, porch, garage or outhouse. Just remember that the butterfly will need to be able to escape when it awakens in early spring.

If you have no options at all for suitable hibernation places, then it would be best to keep the butterfly as cool as possible, to minimise activity, and then to release it outside during a spell of nice weather.

with kind permission of Richard Fox Butterfly Conservation  Surveys Manager

See Also Heating and Hibernation by Butterfly Conservation

Have you heard the Peacock Butterfly anti predatory hiss with video?

I would also add that I have found many dead butterflies having over wintered in my garage and upon waking head straight for the windows. Usually spiders web abound around windows so early spring, clear away any new and even old spiders webs from such places. Even if there is no spider to prey upon the butterfly, they can die if they become trapped in the web.

If putting them inside another place, please ensure that mice will not be able to predate them.

Once safely inside a cardboard box it could be placed inside the top of the fridge, which would soon help it to calm down. Later place it as described above. You may find more than one in situ so deal with them accordingly with a larger box if necessary.

Don’t touch the wings if possible.

{ 87 comments… read them below or add one }

Rosie December 20, 2014 at 4:34 pm

Very interesting..I have wondered what to do about these butterflies. Thanks for the advice.

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nurturingnature December 20, 2014 at 5:12 pm

Thanks Rosie. I get asked many times so hopefully it may help some people! Have a Merry Xmas. Cheers, George

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Hazel Cawley-Nash February 13, 2015 at 6:58 pm

Hi Rosie,
I’ve just found a Red Admiral walking about on my kitchen floor, I think it might have come in on one of my dogs backs :0/ Anyway, I’ve given it some sugary water, to give it a boost, should I place it in the garage as you suggested, there are plenty of places for it to get out on sunny days?

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nurturingnature February 18, 2015 at 4:40 pm

Hi Hazel,

Yes put it on the roof itself where mice will find it difficult to find and eat……and leave a window/escape route for it! Cheers, George

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CAROL January 20, 2016 at 4:00 pm

after reading this I am about to tend to my little friend thanks for the advise
regs Carol

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nurturingnature January 20, 2016 at 5:30 pm

Good on yer Carol! Cheers, George

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Lily Robin January 20, 2016 at 9:09 pm

Hi Rosie

A small tortoishell came into my house yesterday so I put it in a butterfly house behind my door for the night. It hasn’t been active and has remained in the same spot it is the second night now, where shall I put it? I really need an answer ASAP

Thank you so much, me and the butterfly 🙂

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nurturingnature January 20, 2016 at 9:44 pm

Lily, Put it in an outdoor building, shed etc.,away from mice. HTH cheers George

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Lily Robin January 22, 2016 at 7:56 pm

I can’t find any where to put it, shall I leave it in the coolest place of the house or release it?

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nurturingnature January 23, 2016 at 11:00 am

Release it Lily on a warm day if poss., Cheers George

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Lily Robin January 23, 2016 at 4:58 pm

Ok, thank you so much!

Jenna March 12, 2016 at 11:16 am

Hello, I have successfully (so far!) hibernated a red admiral, I put it in a small cardboard box with a little slit hole as advised on these type of websites and have checked on it through the winter. It is still alive but hasn’t moved at all. I’m not sure when to encourage it to wake up. It is lovely and sunny today and will be for the next few days, although still freezing at night, is it too early to pop the box on the shed roof? I don’t want it to try and escape and get caught in cobweb or something.
Can you give me some device please?
Many thanks, Jenna xx

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nurturingnature March 18, 2016 at 6:15 pm

Hi Jenna, Thanks for sharing a lovely little story! I would wait a while longer and look at the weather for a few days then when you see a window of 5 days warmer temps then release it in readiness as suggested on web sites. Cheers, George

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s walker September 5, 2016 at 6:29 pm

Hi, i have just moved into an old house in the countryside, in my bedroom i have found round twenty stunning butterflies they are all huddled together under the curtains and seem sleepy (its only September 6th) what on earth should i do to keep them safe, are they hibernating already?
thank you in advance

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nurturingnature September 6, 2016 at 10:13 pm

Sounds like there are at the early stages. On a warm sunny day try to move them into a show box and release them outdoors. HTH George

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Catherine October 23, 2016 at 11:49 am

We have just found a bunch maybe 10-15 tortoiseshell butterfly’s in our ally way. Are we best to leave them alone? Or move them? Any advice greatfully received x

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nurturingnature October 23, 2016 at 11:54 am

Send me a photo please so I can see for myself as to best deal with this. Thanks, George

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CAROL October 24, 2016 at 8:18 am

High butterfly people …is it just me or am I seeing a lot less of our beautiful little friends this year

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nurturingnature October 25, 2016 at 10:25 pm
Sally malkin November 30, 2016 at 5:43 pm

Hi everyone,come home today and on my window sil is a beautiful red admiral,it was on its side,so brought it in and after a couple of hours it’s now up right and it’s little legs and feelers are all ok.could you tell me what to do,do I give it something to drink.please help me on this he’s beautiful.

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nurturingnature December 1, 2016 at 7:45 am

Put it somewhere safe, away from mice, outdoors in a shed, garage, similar and hopefully it will hibernate. HTH Cheers, George

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Pauline Jones December 3, 2016 at 1:04 pm

I have a Red Admiral in the house. I found a box to put it in for hibernation. Should anything be put in the box with the butterfly

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nurturingnature December 7, 2016 at 10:27 pm

A few air holes and made sure from mice though best put outside on the inner roof of a shed/similar HTH G

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Debbie Martin December 6, 2016 at 2:19 pm

Hi, I’ve just found a butterfly that must have been overwintering in my daughters bedroom. It was on the windowsill just above the radiator which was on full blast. The poor thing was flapping away. Anyway I have managed to catch it and place it in a pop up butterfly habitat thing ( we raised butterflies last year and still have all the kit) but now what? Any advice would be greatly received? We have an old wooden garage but to be honest it is full of spiders and we think some mice!!! Don’t want to put the butterfly from the frying pan into the fire so to speak! It’s pretty mild for December but raining can I release it? Feeling very protective of our visitor!!!

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nurturingnature December 7, 2016 at 10:25 pm

How nice that you care!! If a window can be kept open in your garage you can always place the butterfly on the inside slope of your roof where mice will not be able to climb. The open window will be an escape route and try to keep it spider web free HTH George

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Carol waites December 10, 2016 at 8:24 pm

Just found a butterfly in our games room ! It has a big vaulted ceiling plus we have the log burner on ! What should I do with it !!

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nurturingnature December 15, 2016 at 7:29 am

Hi Carol,
Gently catch it and place inside a cardboard box with air holes and a lid and put it outside in a shed, garage, outhouse away where mice cannot get it and there is a spider and web free exit for it to safely leave. HTH, Cheers, George

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Linda December 11, 2016 at 8:35 pm

I have just picked up a butterfly from the shower tray (before I went in the wash so it’s not wet). I thought it was dead but after a minute of holding it it stretched its wings. I have put it in the utility room (cool on there, no heating). Is there anything else I can do to help it? Thank you

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nurturingnature December 15, 2016 at 7:27 am

Hi Linda, As long as it is cold in there make sure that mice cannot get at it and there is a way out for it which is spider and web free. HTH, Cheers George

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Claire Crook December 19, 2016 at 4:17 pm

I have just found a beautiful tortoise she’ll fluttering around my light fixtures in my bedroom and after reading all the above comments have just sorted out a little cardboard box…put some air holes in it and am about to send him/ her into a hopefully peaceful hibernation for the winter in my shed xx

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nurturingnature December 19, 2016 at 8:58 pm

Nice one Claire, of mice you should be aware!! Good luck 👍

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Judith Payton December 30, 2016 at 3:24 pm

Found a little beauty last night behind the Christmas tree. By this morning he had moved across the room. Seemed kind of lifeless. I put him on a small plate that had a little water. He looked like he took one of his little legs, put in water, then put up to his mouth. Now I put him on a piece of paper to dry. I’ll fashion a small box for him to hibernate.

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nurturingnature December 30, 2016 at 8:25 pm

Thanks for sharing. Try it with a little sugar honey water. Cheers George

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nurturingnature December 30, 2016 at 8:30 pm

Try a little sugar honey warm water Judith. Thx for sharing George

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Judith Payton December 31, 2016 at 3:55 pm

Thank you.

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nurturingnature January 7, 2017 at 9:15 pm

My pleasure Judith, cheers G

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Sophie Crabb December 31, 2016 at 11:03 am

I have had a little fella hibernating in the corner of my bedroom for the last 5 months, suddenly today he fell to the floor and started moving. He then took flight to the sunniest window of the house (closed). It took me a minute to find a suitable box but managed to get him in it and have placed him in the fridge to help him calm down. I live in a flat so have no outhouse, garage or garden to move him to. What should I do next?

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nurturingnature January 7, 2017 at 9:16 pm

Good thinking re fridge as a temporary home. Do you not have any friends who would not mind adopting it for you? Cheers, G

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Sophie January 7, 2017 at 11:59 pm

Unfortunately not, at the moment he is living in my bedroom (the coolest room of the flat) which has a temperature between 12 and 17 degrees center-grade. Is this cool enough? I have had a peep in the box and he seems to have decided to sleep at the top of the box, i’m taking that as a good sign as he is not dead at the bottom.

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nurturingnature January 8, 2017 at 9:16 am

Try contacting butterfly conservation…..http://butterfly-conservation.org/55/contact.html#01 the cheers G

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linda February 26, 2017 at 10:02 am

Found peacock butterfly awake downstairs and have carried up to attic where there is no heat.Have checked it and it hasn, t moved but it has its wings open and eyes up ,can I do anything for it? The weather is cold and wet so didn’t want to put it out as there doesn,t seem to be any flowers blooming yet.What time of year do they go out?Will it be all right if it has awakened now?

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nurturingnature February 26, 2017 at 11:09 am

Hi Linda, It is weather temperatures that brings them out. Its a difficult call. Can it get out of the attic? Have you a shed or outdoors building it can go and easily get out from bearing in mind spiders webs around windows? You are right, there is not much food available for it at the moment. Have a look at the Butterfly Conservation Trust web site that may have more details. HTH George

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sandra April 7, 2017 at 4:06 pm

Hi,
I have 9 Red Admiral butterflies nesting in my backroom over winter, i have left heater off and have a no enter message on door, should i open window so if they waken they can leave or what is best option?? I’m Balintore area, north Scotland, and should i leave sugary water in room?
Many thanks

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nurturingnature April 8, 2017 at 9:05 pm

Hi Sandra, yes open the window after this cold snap we are expecting and let them make their own way out but make sure there are no spiders webs nearby to ensnare the butterflies. Cheers, George

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Sophie August 22, 2017 at 2:42 pm

Hi everyone wondering if I could get some advice I think it’s a red admiral we have in our dining room, been there about 5 weeks but definitely alive as every now and then hell flutter his wings… he’s upside down hanging off our light. Can anyone advise on how I could move him without hurting him as we haven’t put the lights on so far but it’s getting darker and the kids can’t see their dinner! 😂 Thank you

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nurturingnature August 29, 2017 at 6:14 am

Get a jam jar, trap it inside, cover it over with a tea towel and release it outside. there are still flowers around for it to find, it’s a little early for it to hibernate.

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Clare colman August 24, 2017 at 8:36 pm

Hi I’ve had a butterfly in sons room for about 6 weeks now I dident realise they stayed so long what shall I feed it ect it must be hungry no matter what it won’t leave it seems to like his room as it’s very cool I’m thinking that’s why many thanks

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nurturingnature August 29, 2017 at 6:13 am

Get a jam jar, trap it inside, cover it over with a tea towel and release it outside. there are still flowers around for it to find, it’s a little early for it to hibernate. is still time for

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Jake September 14, 2017 at 9:53 pm

Hi, I’ve had a red admiral stay in my room for the past couple of days. It appears to be trying to overwinter, but it seems a little early to me. I’ve been trying to feed it sugared water in the meantime, and have tried to leave the window open to give it every opportunity to leave, but it seems quite settled. Should I release it? Or should I find it a safe place and allow it to hibernate? Thanks

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nurturingnature September 17, 2017 at 7:35 pm

Jake, I would release it when a few warm days are forecast! Cheers, George

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anthony October 1, 2017 at 10:14 am

Hi George i found a tortishell in my washing basket and they hopped around and found my Himalayan salt lamp which it really liked for the heat – i also left a small bowl of honey mixed with water near it – not sure if it has had any over night but its there for it – i have a shed in my allotment which will be cold – should i transfer it there for the autumn/ winter period since when it wakes up it should have plenty of vegetation / flowers etc in the feed for its nectar supply ?

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nurturingnature October 7, 2017 at 6:47 am

Yes transfer it to an outdoor shed and put in a place where mice or spiders won’t catch them. Cheers G

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Kelsie October 10, 2017 at 6:37 pm

Hi all, just a quick query, I have a red admiral that I’ve been tending to for a few days inside and out, mostly inside due to the weather though. One of its wings is half gone and the other doesn’t look too good either. Have fed it sugar water and let it fly around but it can’t go too far due to injury and seems settled. Going to attempt to make a home for hibernation. What would you recommend I put in it?

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nurturingnature October 10, 2017 at 7:16 pm

Hi Kelsia, a mouse proof container with air vents inside a wooden shed/similar, check in spring. HTH, Cheers George

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Kelsie October 11, 2017 at 10:22 am

Hi George,

Thanks for the advice, should I put any bark or something similar in the box? Will it need sugar water at all?

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nurturingnature October 11, 2017 at 7:22 pm

I should not think you need bark. No the sugar water may attract mice. Cheers George

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Lisa October 25, 2017 at 11:56 am

Please help! I spotted a red admiral in the road yesterday and it was my instant reaction to pick it up, it was not looking well. I noticed it’s wings are ripped and cannot fly. It is currently sitting on my dwarf sunflower in the cool porch. I gave it honey water but don’t know what to do next. How long will it survive in this state if I keep feeding it? I have nowhere else to put it. Should I keep feeding it or let nature take its course 😢.

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nurturingnature October 25, 2017 at 1:51 pm

Difficult call that is Lisa. Try putting it inside a shed or outhouse on a wall away from mice. Cheers, George

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nurturingnature November 3, 2017 at 12:18 am

Lisa what a tough call. If you kept it alive and it hibernated how will it live in the spring? I would let nature take its place 😕George

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Lisa November 3, 2017 at 1:30 am

Thanks George, that was my concern too. I gave the poor thing a fighting chance but it didn’t make it 😩. It maybe had other injuries. At least it saw out the last of its time in a safe and quiet place 👍. Thanks for the help and honest advice.

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Amy Smooth October 29, 2017 at 10:15 pm

I have just found one of these butterfly in my home. It has calmed and is settled in a cardboard house a teddy bear came in. I am concerned as I live in a flat with no outbuildings and can not keep windows open. Please advice on the best thing for me to do please. Many thanks

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nurturingnature October 30, 2017 at 7:20 pm

Hi Amy, on a warmish day let it free to find its own hibernation site. HTH, George

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Trish November 11, 2017 at 11:53 am

So glad I found this page. I found a beautiful butterfly on my hall floor and put him on some cut flowers while I looked up how to help him. Thank you! I have a covered wood store in the garden with an open front. I will check for webs and put the box up as high as I can. Should I keep the lid on until it warms up or have an escape hole?

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nurturingnature November 11, 2017 at 9:02 pm

Thanks. Yes keep the box as predator proof as possible.. Best, George

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Lucy November 13, 2017 at 10:52 pm

Hi – glad I found your website 🙂
A tortoiseshell butterfly had been on our spare room ceiling for a few months. I don’t know a lot about butterfly’s but now guess it was hibernating. Went in today and it was flying around with my 2 cats waiting underneath! Read I could give it honey mixed with water which I did but it’s so cold out and I can’t leavd it in the spare room as we are decorating. Would it be best in our covered alleyway, shed (window missing in the shed so it can get out) or green house ?! Thanks!

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Lucy November 16, 2017 at 7:33 am

Hi, just to add to the above, I could put him in a box it won’t be able to get out of and put the box in the loft and then release him in spring?

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nurturingnature November 17, 2017 at 7:01 pm

Would you remember it there though in the loft?!! Cheers, George

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nurturingnature November 17, 2017 at 7:02 pm

Shed, the greenhouse will warm up and fluctuate too much Lucy. Cheers, George

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Lucy November 19, 2017 at 9:21 am

Thanks for your reply George. I would definitely remember it in the loft, it’s really cool up there and will be the safest place I think. I will put him in a box with air holes in and move him up there today. When would be good to release him back out? Spring or summer? Thanks again.

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Anne Bulley November 25, 2017 at 12:49 pm

Thankyou for your helpful information.

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nurturingnature December 4, 2017 at 5:42 pm

My pleasure Anne. Cheers, George

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Kate December 6, 2017 at 2:33 pm

Hi George, I have a small Tortoiseshell that I found in my kitchen and transferred to our garage….it came back in and has been in our cool bedroom for a couple of weeks now. It seems to open its wings in the day and close them and go to a darker place for the night. I have left a window open but it seems to want to stay inside. I tried to give it some sugar water but it seems to fluster it so now I’m leaving it alone. Any advice? I’m so keen to keep it alive! Thanks

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nurturingnature December 10, 2017 at 9:05 pm

Kate put it in a mouseproof box and place inside a shed, garage etc. Cheers, G

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Serenity Potter December 10, 2017 at 7:33 pm

Hi I have found a peacock butterfly in my house my house is warm because there’s 8 inches of snow on the groung where I live he is very lively ,he’s in my front room ,my house is warm what can I do to protect him till at least the snow has gone he is lovely .

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nurturingnature December 10, 2017 at 9:03 pm

Feed it sugar water, and place inside mouseproof box in shed outbuilding.Cheers G

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keelie jade December 15, 2017 at 5:26 pm

there’s a painted lady butterfly in my house, its been there since my Gran died in July, she loved butterflies, i thought it was dead, but it started moving in September, it keeps on waking up, what should i do?

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nurturingnature December 16, 2017 at 7:21 pm

Feed it sugar water, put it in a mouseproof box and place inside a shed, garage etc. Cheers, G

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Julie Phillips December 17, 2017 at 2:08 am

A small tortoiseshell butterfly has been on my bathroom floor since Sunday 10th.
It’s alive. It seems to be in a sort of semi-hibernation state. It has moved to different places on my bathroom floor. It sometimes has it’s wings open, but sometimes they’re closed. It doesn’t flap about like a butterfly usually does. Yesterday I gently moved it out of harms way…It was in the middle of my bathroom floor, so I moved it to the edge of the floor next to the skirting board…It didn’t resist or flap at all!
I live in a maisonette of the 3rd & 4th floor, so I don’t have a shed or garage to move it to.
I don’t mind it staying in my bathroom all Winter. My toilet is my coldest room, but I worry it would move in the “traffic area” & get accidentally stood on.
my bathroom is a cool room & there’s less chance of it getting hurt.
If it was in a fully hibernating state then I could put it in an out if the way bit of my toilet or bathroom. Then I’d feel much better knowing it was safe.
is there a way to make it go back into hibernation?
If there isn’t it’s ok. I’ll just monitor where it is in my bathroom to make sure it’s out of harms way.
I also wondered when should it usually wake up from hibernation?

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nurturingnature December 21, 2017 at 11:39 am

Julie, the state of hibernation is temperature dependent. In spring as temp warm that when they emerge. Indoors is difficult as it is warmer than outdoors…..bathrooms tend to fill up with moist air which may not be good for the butterfly…..HTH G

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Julie Phillips December 22, 2017 at 1:35 am

Oh I never thought of the moisture being an issue. Maybe I will move the bitterly to a dryer/cool room.
will it need any food or drink while it’s I this state? I’m sure in full hibernation it doesn’t, but I wondered if it’s in full or semi hibernation?

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Julie Phillips January 8, 2018 at 3:46 pm

I’ve noticed the butterfly (see my comments above) hasn’t moved in a week or 2. I don’t know if it’s gone into full hibernation or has dead. Is there a way of knowing which it is?
in the last week or 2 I haven’t touched it because I don’t want to disturb it.
It’s standing (on the floor) with its wings closed. Would it fall over if it was dead?
I really hope it’s alive. I’d feel terrible if it died in my house. 🙁

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Louise December 26, 2017 at 7:18 pm

We have a small tortoiseshell butterfly in our living room , it’s on the wall by a wall light , been there all day , the room is very warm as we have a coal fire , what is the best thing to do to help the butterfly, any help would be greatly appreciated.

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nurturingnature January 1, 2018 at 9:58 am

Hi Louise, put it into a cardboard box with a slit for air and out of harms way in s a garage, shed etc away from mice. HTH George

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Jas January 3, 2018 at 5:15 pm

My daughters got a butterfly garden for Christmas. The Catapillar’s are just getting ready to build a cocoon. It is freezing where I live and I’m not sure what to do once they emerge as butterflies. Will they live in a bedroom? Do I keep them in a box as I’ve read well they live until spring? We have a screened in back porch do I leave the box in the back porch or is that still too cold?

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nurturingnature January 3, 2018 at 5:43 pm

Difficult for me to say Jas. I’m sure your instructions can deal with this matter far better than I can. If not get in touch with your supplier, whom I’m sure will be only too glad to help. Cheers, George

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Eos January 4, 2018 at 10:52 pm

I gave some honey water to a tortoiseshell I found in my house and sadly it’s wings have got sticky and damaged by the liquid – am so sad for it. Should I euthanise (if so how is kindest?) or is there anything I can do? Thanks!

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nurturingnature January 5, 2018 at 4:06 pm

Hi Eos, What a shame! This is an area I would not like to advise as there may be a way, I’m not sure. Contact Butterfly conservation and seek their advice. Good Luck, Cheers, George

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