Sunday, August 04, 2013

raising monarchs

The girls and I have been raising butterflies for six years. It started when we got a butterfly kit as a gift for K's second birthday. As far as I know, butterfly kits only come with painted ladies which are lovely but are not monarchs or swallow tails.

Wooly Bears are the larvae for Isabella Tiger Moths
It was fun and I wanted to try it with monarch caterpillars.  Over the years, we've also raised black swallow tails, tiger swallow tails, Isabella Tiger moths (only one successfully) and lost two milkweed tussock moth larvae. Tussock moth larvae (the funny wooly creature below) are fast buggers!!

Raising caterpillars is easy (if you know what kind of caterpillar you have and what kind of food that they eat and you keep them in a container that they can't escape, which was my mistake with the tussock moth caterpillar).

I've decided to try to walk you through the process this year because doing it yourself is cheaper and more fun than ordering a kit. Plus you help the monarch butterfly population since over 90% of larvae die before they reach maturity (our success rate is much higher than that).

Monarch larvae and eggs are found on milkweed. Above, you see a photo of what our local variety of milkweed looks like. Young larvae and eggs are usually found on the lower leaves of young plants. Monarch's tend to lay their eggs on young plants so that the young larvae have tender leaves to eat. In addition to finding monarch larvae on milk weed, you could find tussock moth larvae.

Eggs are small yellowish, and oblong. The are very tiny. This leaf is small leaf.

If your eyes are good or you have a loop or magnifying glass, you can see more detail like this.

We've lost the above larvae. Monarch larvae are cannibalistic - so it is possible this one got munched.

I change the monarch's food every day. When the larvae are this small, the easiest way to transfer them from one leaf to the next is to carefully, clip small section of the leaf from around the caterpillar and place it on a fresh leaf.

In addition to larvae that we lost, we have three larvae so far this year. After I took this shot, I put each larvae on its own leaf to reduce the risk of cannibalism. If I had more appropriate containers, I would probably store them each in their own container to prevent it but it is a lot of work and theoretically, they have enough room in the jar I have them.

I will continue to update you with photos and tips. At the end I will try to bring it altogether into one comprehensive article. Unfortunately, you guys get to watch me work through the rough draft process. ;)


  1. Oooh, I am very excited to read this. I allow milkweeds freedom to go wild in my yard specifically for the monarch. An Entymologist with the University of Illinois said butterfly populations appear to be down 65-70% which includes the monarch. Scientists can't determine if last year's drought and high temperatures are to blame or, in the monarch's case, if it's habitat loss in Mexico, their overwintering grounds. I've seen one monarch this year and usually, by now, I've seen a dozen. It's probably too late for me to find eggs or larvae but I'll try to be educated and look next year. Thank you.

  2. What an interesting thing to do!
    I've only seen one Monarch butterfly this year.

  3. How cool!! So neat, I remember when I was little I tried to do this but didn't have a clue what I was doing.
    Hope to follow along. Things are crazy here. Daughter in law had surgery 2 wks ago, my oldest son has one tomorrow, (their dog ended up in ER with pancreasitis last night) then my divorce conferences, settlements, etc in and I don't have much of a mind left!
    Love the photos!

  4. I am so glad you are sharing this with us. We have watched painted ladies develop, but not the mighty monarch. Your photos are excellent.

  5. That's so cool. Those butterflies are beautiful.

  6. Well, this is going to be interesting! Looking forward to following along!

  7. WOW! I am looking forward to seeing more post on this! Very interesting and educational for me! Hugs and blessings, Cindy