Grow a Monarch Butterfly.
Please.

I saw my first Monarch butterfly of the year 2 weeks ago.  One lone Monarch butterfly.

For the past 10 years or so I’ve been raising Monarch butterflies for fun.  WHO knows fun?   This girl!  The one with the calloused feet and pet butterflies.

It takes almost no effort to raise a butterfly from egg to winged  creature and the process is astonishing to watch.  If you like watching seeds sprout, wait’ll you see a butterfly do the same thing.

Which brings me back to my first point.  Only one butterfly this year.  Normally I see a few by this time of year and if you think back to when you were a kid there were Monarch butterflies everywhere.  We were filthy with butterflies as kids.  But things have changed. And they’ve changed drastically over the past 365 days.

It isn’t surprising that I’ve only seen one butterfly this year because in the past year alone …

The Monarch Butterfly Population has dropped by 90%.

When you consider the fact that only 1-3% of butterflies make it to adulthood in the wild … that’s very few butterflies.  In fact, as of this year …

The Monarch Butterfly is close to being declared an endangered species.

The Monarch Butterfly!

So how did this happen?  Well, mostly it’s because their habitat and their food supply has been demolished.  Monarchs live, feed and grow on milkweed.  Builders put up subdivisions, malls and theatres in areas that were formerly fields.  Fields filled with milkweed.  Farmers mow down any milkweed around or on their properties to make way for wheat or other crops. Sometimes they mow the milkweed down just to keep it under control so it doesn’t run into their cultivated fields.  This past year also saw severe weather during the Monarch migration and a huge loss of habitat once they got to Mexico because of illegal logging in the forests.

So this past year was a perfect storm of poor conditions for the Monarch.

I didn’t raise Monarchs last year because quite frankly most of my time was filled up with a minor nervous breakdown and coming up with imaginary revenge plots.  And I wasn’t going to do it this year just because I’ve done it so many times and I’m really busy living a happy live and coming up with imaginary revenge plots.

But when I saw that lone Monarch butterfly, I ran to the milkweed plants around my house (I leave them to grow specifically  for the Monarch butterflies) and searched them for eggs.  I only found 3 Monarch eggs, but I brought all 3 inside to save.  One is staying with me, one is going to my sister Pink Tool Belt and one is going to her friend Wendy.

If you’d like to give raising a Monarch butterfly a shot (and I really think everyone should do it at least once in their lives) here is the 4 part tutorial I wrote 4 years ago on how to do it.  It takes about a month in total and all you need is milkweed for food, a monarch egg or caterpillar (which you find on milkweed) and a glass container so you can see everything that’s going on.  And believe me when I tell you, you will NEVER see a more fascinating transformation.  The metamorphosis of a Monarch Butterfly from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly makes a Stephen King novel look about as weird as The Bobbsey Twins.  How’s that for a current reference?

 

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STUFF YOU WANT TO KNOW

 Part I

How-to-raise-a-monarch

 

 

 

Part II

milkweed

 

Part III

 

out-of-egg

 

 

 

Part IV

chrysalis

 

 

Part V

 

 

 

out-of-chrysalis2

 

 

Not the best photographs I’ve ever taken but it was 4 years ago.  I didn’t know how to use Photoshop then.  Or a camera.  Or even Instagram now that I think about it.  How embarrassing.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to raise a Monarch Butterfly take a look at the tutorials  and give it a shot.  (Just click on the picture or text)

 

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That picture above shows me and one of the butterflies I raised a couple of years ago.  After taking care of it for a month and watching it go from egg to winged creature, I walked outside, and held out my hand where it tentatively flapped its wings then fluttered to a lush and inviting tree overhead.

Then it was eaten by a bat.

Just kidding.

Help save the butterfly population.  Because if you don’t do it, who will?   Also I don’t know what to chase anymore.  Trains seem much more dangero ..

 

87 Comments

  1. Jeanne B says:

    We live in Minnesota and have finally been seeing some butterflies, including Monarchs. My husband has taught the neighbors children about Monarchs and has had them growing them. Each summer they hunt the milkweed patch on the side of our house for the eggs so they can save them. It’s an amazing thing to see a Monarch hatch.

  2. Melissa in North Carolina says:

    I’m going to have to research milkweed, I don’t know what it is. I would love to raise Monarch Butterflies!!!
    Thanks, Karen!

  3. MindyK says:

    We raised butterflies 10 years ago when my son was small. We haven’t done it since because we had a bad experience: when the butterflies came out of their chrysalises (chrysali?), they fell to the bottom of the container and STUCK because their wings were wet. Half of them died. We were traumatized. Is there a way to avoid this? Otherwise, I will plant milkweed but the monarchs are going to have to do the rest themselves.

    • Karen says:

      Hi MindyK – If I were to guess I’d say your container wasn’t big enough. The container has to be big enough so that when the butterfly emerges it has plenty of room to spread it’s wings and flap them to dry them out. Drying its wings and unfurling its antennae are the first things a Monarch does when it emerges. ~ karen!

  4. Ev Wilcox says:

    Years ago we were blessed by a Monarch “cloud” that came to rest in our trees at dusk. Just happened to be standing in the right place at the right time. Once they land they are part of the tree and invisible! There were so many! This happened twice that we got to witness. In the morning they were gone. A few years earlier I saw a “cloud” land in our driveway on a sunny day. They rested awhile and left-it was so wonderful and I felt privileged to have them for even such a short time. We live in Northeast Ohio, in farm country. I will try to get the right milkweeds and start from there. Thanks so much Karen!

  5. Dagmar says:

    Alright, so everyone can gasp in unison. I am scared to death of butterflies. No really, I really am. Just looking at your photos Karen made me all queasy. I certainly don’t want them extinct by any means. And just yesterday I saw a very large black one – what I assume to be a female Swallowtail. (I had to do some research; because otherwise, I would wonder about it for days and days). It was the first butterfly I had seen of the season, but I do live in a condo, and there is a huge highway a block away, on the opposite side of my balcony. So really, I am not the expert here. Alright, you may all breathe normally now.

    • tom harrison says:

      My oldest daughter was the same way. I took two of my daughters to the butterfly garden here in Seattle at the Woodland Park Zoo. My 2-year old sat in her stroller while butterflies landed on her and she tried to eat them. My 7-year old? She started screaming, “they’re going to eat me!” and I had to take her out of the garden. You should see her mother (my-ex) around a bee. She goes into complete hysterics over the sight of a single bee. So, your reaction seems completely normal to me:)))

      • Dagmar says:

        Thanks for letting me in on that vision, Tom. The idea of a child eating butterflies as they fly around her will only allow my brain to let that horrific image rest-and only, because two year-olds will put everything in their mouths. And as far as bees are concerned, I wouldn’t want to find myself fully immersed in a hive; but I don’t run away or kill them.

  6. Jody says:

    Off to get some milkweed plants. To be honest I meant to do this earlier but I forgot. I’ll be ready for next year. Thank you for the reminder.

  7. Maureen says:

    Here in Texas, by the time we see Monarch butterflies, they are most of the way to their summer home in Mexico. But this year, we raised several butterflies, too! This is the first time I’ve ever done this and it was amazing. We found a chyrsallis on our fennel plants, and covereed the entire raised bed with netting so the birds wouldn’t get it. Then our friends had several chrysallis and they had put them in a big glass jar, filled with some dill and a few sticks. When we found another chyrsallis outside, we did the same thing. We got to raise two Black Swallowtail butterflies! And that his the most I’ve used the word chrysallis in one sitting since I was about 10.

  8. Beckie says:

    I let the milkweed grow in my yard, too

    now that I think back on it, it has been some while since I’ve seen a monarch in the garden

    I will look for eggs or ‘pillers today

  9. Tigersmom says:

    More proof that all of our actions have affects beyond what we often realize.

    Does anyone happen to know if Monarchs only lay eggs at the two ends (Mexico and Canada) of their migration or if they also lay them along their migration path (like here in northeast Texas)?

  10. Bernard says:

    Excellent subject, Karen!!

    The same is true of bees and frogs (albeit for a few different reasons).

    The plant at which I work has developed 3 wetland/meadows for wildlife on its multiacre plot.

    The bee and amphibian populations have been “restocked” and have healthy populations (after 4 years) so my first stop on Thursday morning (my Monday) will be to EHS Manager’s office to see about getting milkweeds going….

    Thanks for the heads up.

    Cheers.

    • Pam says:

      Bernard, where do you work??? I want to work there too. Sounds like a wonderful place to me.

      • Bernard says:

        Hello Pam –

        I work at the GE Health Care Digital X-Ray Detector Production Facility in North Greenbush, NY.

        We make the plates for Mammograms (primarily), as well as other devices and processes … and yes, it is a great place to work.

        Cheers

  11. Mary says:

    Ironically, this year I’ve seen more milkweed by the roadside than I’ve ever seen before. On the flipside, no Monarch Butterflys.

  12. Ann says:

    Here in Tennessee the entire butterfly species has decreased dramatically this year. I have seen so few of all my favs. The monarchs, frittilarys, hairstreaks,swallowtails, buckeyes, ect…..It makes me so sad. I use no pesticides, herbicides or any thing else that might be a danger to them. I plant plenty of plants that butterflies normally love to visit. We have plenty of milkweed locally but much of it gets cut down when the farmers harvest their pastures. Which does need to happen. I do wish the roadside crews would stop cutting down all the wild stuff that would also help nurture the butterfly population but I can’t see that happening any time soon.

    But thank you Karen, for making the effort to help with the Monarchs and bringing it to the attention of the many others who read your blog regularly.

  13. jainegayer says:

    I will never forget raising monarchs in my second grade classroom. Yes, the kids were distracted for parts of the day but it was so worth it. The day we set them free, we took them outside in the netted cage we had made for them, formed a circle and held hands and as I opened the cage and they flew away, one of my “tough” little boys, started to sing, “I believe I can fly.” It was one of those unforgettable moments in my teaching career.

  14. Su says:

    I’ve been planting milkweed and scattering seed for the monarchs. I think I’ve seen maybe two where I live along a river here in Illinois.Used to see them in such great numbers….. :(
    I too remember raising them in school as a child and the miracle of watching them emerge – it was magical! Like the honeybees the monarch is in a serious crisis. You are to be thanked for blogging about them! go Karen!

  15. Rhonda SmartyPants says:

    Please help me find out more to do. I live in southern Oregon just north of the California border and cannot find out when the monarch butterflies would pass through my region. Is there anybody out there with information on my ‘neck o’ the woods’?

  16. mary says:

    thank you everyone for helping the monarch butterfly. It is very endangered.

    Please plant this specific type of milkweed! I work in a nursery and the monarch butterflies only lay eggs on this one: common milkweed [A. Syriaca] or swamp milkweed [A. incarnata])

    see below for more info…..which I copied from a Q/A I found on the web.

    I read that while there are 106 types of milkweed, monarchs only lay their eggs on certain kinds and that they avoid others because of the level of toxicity. I’m worried because the only type of milkweed we have so far is the butterfly weed (asclepias tuberosa) and it has no milky substance in the plant. What milkweeds do monarchs like?

    A. There are actually very few species of milkweed that monarchs won’t eat. Among the ones they will eat, they certainly have preferences. We know that female monarchs will lay their eggs on Asclepias tuberosa, and monarch larvae will eat it. However, we find in the lab that A. tuberosa is not one of their favorite milkweeds to eat. If you monitor a patch of A. tuberosa, you will likely find some eggs and larvae on it, but you may not find as many per plant as you would find on some other species (e.g. common milkweed [A. Syriaca] or swamp milkweed [A. incarnata]).

  17. mimiindublin says:

    Thank you Karen!
    Here, the butterfly population has increased, for 2 reasons: 1. Health and Safety has made it much more complicated (and expensive!) for local councils to cut roadside weeds, grass etc. Whereas in the olden days, just 1 man and a shears did the job, now there have to be warning trucks and traffic cones and all sorts.
    2. With the recession, local councils didn’t have the money for cutting weeds, let alone providing all the health and safety paraphnelia.
    Every cloud has a silver lining!

  18. Shuckclod says:

    I have never grown a butterfly. I have Monarchs in my yard, but no milk weed. I have a butterfly bush and lantanas that they love. I also have black butterflies. I will check the store for a milk weed plant. I would like to do this. Amazing pictures you took. I did read all the parts, can’t risk the warts :) Thank you for the info.

  19. Elena says:

    One of my favorite places as a child was the Monarch Butterfly sanctuary in Pacific Grove, CA. Such a beautiful and majestic insect, and yet I cannot remember the last time I saw one during the past 18 years!

    • Ev Wilcox says:

      Pacific Grove-so many years ago! The butterfly sanctuary was really something. Thanks for the memory trip!

  20. Debbie says:

    You are quite simply amazing! I love butterflies and I’d give the world to do this. I’m moving to a new home with a beautiful back yard and gardens. What if I can’t find an egg? Is there any way of buying them that you might know of?
    Your friend in butterflying,

    Debbie

    • Amber says:

      Debbie, if you are in the eastern US you can get them at livemonarch.com, and milkweed too. If you are not they should have resources for you. including how to collect and overwinter pods. I believe you can get eggs on Amazon too. The Audubon has a great resource for making butterfly and hummingbird gardens “how to create a butterfly garden”.
      Good luck!

  21. WOW! Beautiful photography and videos! A spectacular presentation of how fragile the balance between life and death can be. We have a vacation rental home on the beach in Costa Rica, and the leatherback turtles who have nested on the beach for millions of years, (surviving the ice age and whatever killed the dinosaurs) are now arriving to nest in diminishing numbers every year. Just like the butterflies. Makes me sad and angry too. Thank you for helping the butterflies! You should come to Costa Rica and help save the sea turtles!

    By the way…Did you ever try to revive a hydrangea with alum? I did it just the other day and it worked miraculously, in less than an hour.

  22. Stephbo says:

    When I was in elementary school (I think 5th grade), my teacher brought in monarch caterpillars for us to raise. We were all so excited watching the process and waiting for the butterflies to emerge. Now that I think of it, it probably wasn’t the smartest move on her part because we were waaaaaaay to distracted to pay attention to anything else. Anyway. Ahem. Over 30+ years later, I still remember watching them emerge from the chrysalis and walking outside as a class to set them free. Thanks for such a detailed explanation of the process.

  23. Kat says:

    I want to do this but there is no milkweed here in Alberta. I miss the Monarchs from Ontario. I have been listening to David Suzuki’s program in Toronto to bring back the monarch but no one seems to know anything about it out here in Alberta??? I went to a butterfly house here and they had a few monarchs and when I asked if they had milkweed she just shrugged and said they feed theirs fruit and sugar water. They are not completely extinct so they should be able to be brought back. It is so sad when you think about our own destructive things we do. I love monarchs and even dressed up as one for Halloween and won $50.00 in an online costume contest.

  24. Larraine says:

    Oh, Karen — living well is the best revenge! But plots are fun too.

  25. Amber says:

    Thank you thank you thank you. I was considering writing to you about this, because here in Vermont where the state mascot is the Monarch, I haven’t seen a single one this year. Not one. My milkweed isn’t eaten, there are no caterpillars. None. They are gone.
    Please look into the Free Milkweed program in the eastern US, Livemonarch.com and try to support our beautiful butterflies.
    I’m growing milkweed everywhere and if it isn’t too late will order some eggs.
    Thank you thank you thank you

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