It started out as a homeschool project, what we didn't know in the beginning is how much we'd learn along the way. More importantly how it would impact us and the monarchs.
I had looked into buying chrysalides but it was quite expensive. I mentioned my interest in raising monarchs to a friend who had already raised monarchs herself. She told me to go out to the milkweed available on my property and look on the underside of the leaves, there you will find eggs. That's exactly what we did! We found three eggs and two caterpillars, a large one and a small one. Boy were we excited! But then came, how do we take care of them?
With a lot of research we had begun a caterpillar nursery. I will try to comment on each stage of taking care of monarchs without writing a whole book!! :)
Saving the Monarchs: First thing, did you know that monarchs are on the endangered species list and that we can help them?
Development of land is destroying the milkweed they require and the many chemicals we spray in the air and on plants are killing the monarchs off as well. The survival rate of a caterpillar making it to a butterfly is only 3%-10%. Now some think that we may do more harm bringing in eggs and caterpillar, though we may lose some, the chances of caterpillars to a butterfly by raising them goes up to 90%. That's a huge difference and could cause quite the impact if enough people help out.
Planting Milkweed: If bringing them in to raise them is just too much at the time, planting milkweed on your property will help them greatly. So if you don't already have some milkweed on your property, please do so. Even in small amounts its helping them. There are different types of milkweed. Familiarize yourself with the ones native to your area. Some are invasive and some are not. On my property I have three kinds.. common milkweed, swamp milkweed and butterfly milkweed. I'm currently in the process of making a butterfly habitat on my property for them.
Finding the Monarch eggs: The only host plant that monarchs lay their eggs on is milkweed, nothing else. Carefully lifting leaves you can find the small, creamy, almost pointy oval eggs generally on underside of leaf.
Housing them: Place them in a container so they can't get out. You can use a Kritter Keeper with pantyhose over top, Butterfly Mesh Sanctuary or a simple plastic food container with a hole and pantyhose over it will work. You may want atleast two to three containers to separate large caterpillars from babies as they may eat them the small ones. I learned this the hard way. :( Once they are ready to open as a butterfly consider putting them in a larger space. They will need room to pump their wings when they emerge from chrysalis.
Feeding Caterpillars: All monarch caterpillars eat is milkweed. Once your eggs hatch you will need to provide fresh leaves everyday. In fact, as soon as you can see a black dot on top of egg put it on a new leaf so it can eat right away. There are several ways to provide the leaves: putting a live plant in with them, providing a few leaves in Water Tubes for Cuttings or a single leaf wrapped in a watered paper towel. Make sure they go on the fresh leaf.. I cut the old leaf around them and set them on new leaf as picture shows below.
Cleaning: All they do is eat, sleep and poop. Due to so many droppings you will have to clean up after them quite a bit to keep them healthy. Put a paper towel down on the bottom of the sanctuary for easy clean up. Switch it out when it looks like it needs a new one.
I did my whole set up in a tote that is set on it side. I cut large holes on sides and covered with mesh. I then added a mesh shelf on which I place leaves and caterpillars on, so droppings can go to bottom of tote, then I can swipe it clean.
The Monarch stages: Once they hatch a caterpillar will molt, shed their skin, 5 times. During that timeframe they will stop eating for about 24 hours. They will then proceed eating until next molt, aka instar.
At about two weeks the caterpillar will wonder off and look for a spot to weave silk from their mouths to the side or upper part of container, they will then attach their bottom to it and hang upside down. Within 24 hours they will j hang. Within 24 hours of j hanging they will quiver, their outer skin will rip off and they will go into a chrysalis. This step is amazing to watch but only takes a minute or two. Approximately 7-10 days a butterfly will emerge. Before they open the chrysalis will turn clear, when that happens you know it will emerge soon.
Releasing butterfly: Once the butterfly emerges it will need to be left alone so its delicate wings can dry. This takes about two- three hours. If its humid it may take longer. You will know when its ready when it starts to wonder. Release butterfly on a sunny day. If its raining hold off. A butterfly doesn't need to eat for about 24 hours after emerging.
Interesting fact- A monarch can smell milkweed from a mile away.
This was a wonderful experience. Now that I have raised a few I have plans on raising a bunch more this coming spring. I am currently working on a butterfly habitat in the one corner of my property. I will try to post it when it is further along.
There are also an abundance of information on other sites and be sure to check youtube for inspiring monarch videos! I do recommend these following books for homeschooling! We found them at the library with a bunch of other butterfly books but these were our favorites!
Thank you for visiting, any questions please ask! Or share your raising monarch story below in comments!