How to Raise a Monarch Butterfly
Part III of V

 

The-first-15-days-part-3

Have you read How to Raise a Monarch Butterfly Part 1 and also Part 2?  ‘Cause you need to read those first.  If you *have* read parts 1 and 2 that means you have gone looking for some milkweed and eggs.  Got em?  Good.  Now we can continue.

For those of you finding this post last in the summer:  If you don’t have your eggs yet, you have until September or October to find some.  Monarchs lay their eggs until that time.  And here’s the fun part!  Regular old summer Monarchs only live for a few weeks.  The group of Monarchs that are born last … around September or October … are the ones that migrate to California and Mexico!

Days 1-5 in raising your Monarch butterfly pretty much involve staring at an egg.  I can save you a bit of staring time by letting you know that a telltale sign it’s about to hatch is the fact that the egg goes clear and the tip turns black. This black tip is actually the caterpillar’s head that you can now see inside.  Raising Monarchs is all kinds of freaky from beginning to end.

Once you see the black head of the caterpillar through the shell, keep your eye on it.  It means todays’ the day you’re going to have to start taking care of something.

Not about to hatch:

DSC_0471


Totally about to hatch:

egg-black

 

ANY CHARA CTER HERE

Chances are you aren’t going to see the caterpillar emerge. So for you, I sat around for 5 hours with a supply of snacks and a camera.

After several hours the caterpillar pushes itself out of the egg.

logo-shell

out-of-shell-2

 

 

He’ll go for a little walk. (the first of many)

turning-around

ANY CHARA CTER HERE

And then he’ll come back and have his very first meal. His shell.

eating-shell


Even better?  I got it all on video.

 

ANY CHARA CTER HERE

O.K. You’ve birthed a caterpillar! Now what?

Days 5-8

Put your caterpillar in the nice little house you made for it.

in-bowl

 

For the rest of its life you have to make sure the caterpillar has fresh milkweed leaves. Not dried up, crispy leaves. Once you see the leaf is getting to look old, replace it with a fresh one. The caterpillar eats non-stop when it’s in its growing phase. If it doesn’t have fresh food it will die. And you will be a murderer.

You also have to clean up after the caterpillar. That means you have to clean the poo out of its house. If the caterpillar is on the leaf, just gently pick up the leaf and tap it. The poo on the leaf will fall off, but the caterpillar will stay on. They have tremendously strong feet those caterpillars. Also wipe any poo out of the bowl.

monarch-poop

A 2 day old Monarch caterpillar and its poop.

 

When your caterpillar is 1-4 days old you’re gonna have a couple of problems. For starters the caterpillar is almost impossible to see and you’re going to be convinced it’s gone. It isn’t. Unless it is. For some reason the baby caterpillars want to escape their perfect little homes. And they will go on walkabout. THAT is why I tell you to use the two way tape and screening on top of your bowl.

This particular caterpillar was making its way up to the top of the bowl to try and escape. Yours will try to do the same.

walkabout

 

 

ANY CHARA CTER HERE

If you manage to keep track of your caterpillar for the first few days, the rest is a breeze.

Days 8-14

Just keep giving it fresh milkweed and cleaning out the poo and it will grow and grow and grow. And poo and poo and poo.

8-day-old-caterpillar

 

the-caterpillar

The Monarch caterpillar has 5 instars. That means it sheds its skin 5 times. Each time it sheds its skin it emerges a bigger, brighter version of itself. You’ll know when it’s about to shed its skin because it stays still for HOURS. It doesn’t eat, it doesn’t move, it just lays there. You’ll think it’s dead. It’s not. Remember … it does this “playing dead” thing 5 times. It’s kind of like a hibernation.

This is the final skin shedding for this caterpillar.

ANY CHARA CTER HERE

Notice how squashed down its new antennae are.

squashed-antennae

 

This final caterpillar stage will last a couple of days. Keep feeding it. In return, out of love and kindness, it’ll keep pooping.

A day or so after the caterpillar sheds its final skin it’ll start wandering again.  It’ll probably make its way up the sides of your bowl and crawl around on the screen for a while. It may even take a bit of a nap there.    It’s picking out its final resting place.  Then it’ll probably wander back down again, snack for another half day or so, then wander back up onto the screen.

making-bum-nest

 

Once the caterpillar realizes life would be much better as a butterfly – what with the ability to fly and all – it crawls up onto the screen and starts spinning a cotton-like thread out of its mouth.

Then the caterpillar will turn around and stick its bum into the miniature cotton ball it’s made.

Over the course of a couple of hours the caterpillar will loosen it’s grip on the screen. One by one, leg by leg it’ll let go.

 

Until it drops down, held only by its bum, into a “J” shape. Or a “6”. Depending on which side you’re lookin’ at of course.

hanging

 

And this folks … is where it starts to go all science fiction on us …

READ ON  …

 


 

57 Comments

  1. Laura says:

    you’re the best. Thanks for the great photos! What kind of snacks go best with watching a butterfly egg?

  2. alice says:

    This is absolutely awesome and amazing! The time involved in capturing all of this is a labor of love. I can’t wait to see the next post!

  3. Shauna says:

    You have done a great job, some really amazing pictures. I had no idea how much was involved for the little guys. And the poo! Who knew they could poo so much and it would be so big. I was kinda grossed out in the beginning of this post, but am now annoyed it ended…lol “that’s it?? I have to wait??” lol Very interesting!!

  4. Pati says:

    Incredible!! They are soo tiny when they hatch…Awesome pics and wow you are patient! Can’t wait for the next post 🙂

  5. Sara says:

    So cool! Thanks for sitting for hours watching tiny eggs, and watching caterpillars eat and poo for our entertainment and education!

  6. Nancy says:

    The photos of the little guys progress are incredible, I mean really spectacular!
    I just wish I knew where to find the milkweed in the first place.
    I can hardly wait to see tomorrows post.

  7. Pam'a says:

    Truly, this is an amazing series! Your photography and perserverance are inspiring, and I think this would be an awesome tutorial for a gradeschool class as well. (And because I care, don’t forget that “it’s” is short for “it is”…)

    I am on pins and needles waiting for the next exciting episode! What could possibly happen now??

    🙂

  8. Liz says:

    Monarch caterpillars are pretty cute aren’t they?

  9. amy says:

    Thank you so much for the pictures and your vigilance! This is amazing.

  10. Joni N. says:

    Awesome, Karen! The metamorphosis is so incredible. Looking forward to the next installments.

  11. funkyjunk says:

    Fascinating!!…really! And you have a really good camera btw.

  12. susan w says:

    extraordinary photos, extraordinary patience. This is wonderful wonderful.
    What kind of camera and what are you using for these macro shots? The emergence pix are beautiful and wondrous.
    I don’t have enough superlatives for all of this.

    just wow

  13. Heidi says:

    karen this is amazing!

  14. Jan says:

    In my next life I will be an 11 day old caterpillar. Wearing stripes. Lots and lots of stripes.

  15. Sharalee says:

    This is so cool! Can’t wait to see him transform!

  16. Natalie says:

    This is so awesome! Can’t wait for the next pictures!

  17. FlagirlinTN says:

    I wish you’d have been my 4th grade science teacher. Maybe then I would have paid attention more. I wouldn’t know milkweed if it hit me upside the head. I wouldn’t know where to look for said milkweed if I knew what it looked like. So I’ll just have to live vicariously through you and wish I had some poo to clean up tonight.

  18. Ana says:

    THAT CATERPILLAR IS SOOOO CUTE!! I want to squeeze it in my fingers to give it a leeeetle hug. A leeeetle wittle hug that hopefully won’t kill it…

    I can’t wait to see what happens next.

  19. Deb says:

    Hey Karen.
    What exactly do the eggs look like? How big?
    We have a little tiny white ball on one of our milkweeds….and only little white flecks on the leaves. Not sure which one is the egg. ?

  20. Anemone says:

    These are great pix…amazing…i love the whole suspense kinda feeling…and yes…its a better than a documentary on tv

  21. kel says:

    weird question….do they only eat? no water needed?

    • Karen says:

      Hi Kel – No need for water. Milkweed is the watermelon of the plant world. It’s full of so much water/milk there’s no need for additional liquids. ~ karen

  22. deezie says:

    That is just simply amazing. I have never ever seen such photos. You really should make a little book with those photos. So after seeing I can do the same. I happen to know where there was some milkweed near me. Me and my girls drove over there. Its on a beach, pretty deep in but I was determined. I actually think I found a leaf with an egg on it. Its still white though. I can’t wait to see your next set of pictures
    have a great day
    Oh I am a lurker by the way. I have never posted before:)
    deezie

    • Karen says:

      Deezie – Thanks for coming out of the lurking closet! Hope to see you again and good luck with the butterflies! ~ karen

  23. Elaine Clark says:

    I can’t count how many milkweed leaves I have looked at over the past week. I now don’t go by one without checking for eggs. The only things I have seen are aphids. Lots of aphids. At first I thought I had hit the motherlode of eggs until I saw them moving. My husband says that he has not seen any Monarchs yet this summer here in Massachusetts. Alas, neither have I. I told him this is why we must keep looking for the eggs to help this creature. See what you have done to me. I now don’t pull up milkweeds, even the ones sprouting in my garden. So I will continue to look and let you know. Thanks for the insight and inspiration.

  24. Rebecca says:

    This is so exciting! I remember reading this set of posts last year but didn’t make the effort to look for milkweed, little did I know I have an abundance of milkweed in my backyard. I saw a Monarch flying around them over the weekend so I’ll be egg hunting soon. Thanks for reposting.

    • Karen says:

      Rebecca – If you watch the monarch while it’s hovering over your milkweed, you’ll probably be able to see it lay the eggs while it stops over the leaves. This’ll make it easier for you to go and find the eggs. ~ karen!

  25. Liz S. says:

    Wonder what the big bosses would think if I raised some of these at my desk at work. It would certainly give me something to watch. I just have to figure out where to find milkweek.

    • Karen says:

      Liz S. – Clearly the big bosses would recognize it as a sign of initiative, intelligence and leadership on your part. I suspect a promotion, a raise, a company car and your own private washroom would be the result.

  26. Shauna says:

    “Keep feeding it. In return, out of love and kindness, it’ll keep pooping.” This sounds just like our friends…the chickens. We got ours this weekend, they have officially moved into the new coop & run. Our cats are very enamored thus far;)

  27. Dee says:

    Sorry but if you leave the egg on the milkweed and just watch every day you will see the same thing in multiples and they always have enough to eat. I had 19 hatch a couple of weeks ago and now in the count down to emerging as butterflies. They have survived for centuries without us gathering them, just don’t spray for insects in or around your house, don’t disturb the plants or them that’s the best things we can do for them. I just found a chryslis on a garbage can this afternoon so carefully set the can aside and will not move it until the butterfly hatches. And don’t touch them when they emerge, they must pump their blood into the wings to basically inflate them and then dry out.
    Also there are many different types of milkweed and some grows better in different parts of the country. Can also purchase milkweed plants,check online. Thank you Karen for peaking all this interest and caring for the Monarch.

    • Karen says:

      Dee – Around these parts, monarch eggs don’t last on the plant. I’ve had egg covered milkweed outdoors for over a decade and not one butterfly has survived. I’ve spotted a couple of tiny caterpillars over the years but by the next day they’re gone. Eaten by bugs or birds. If you “google” about them you’ll see the alarming statistics regarding survival rates for Monarchs raised indoors versus outdoors. 🙁 Happy butterflying! – Karen!

      • Laurie says:

        I had the same thing happen, Karen. I found a couple of eggs and tiny caterpillars. I left a couple caterpillars out on the plant and went back for them the next day…gone. The plant had plenty of ants though. We have lots of milkweed so I went hunting and in the next few days found nothing but small holes and ants. This tells me they hatched and were soon eaten. Anyway, I have 4 going and one is in the J shape just today. Kind of strange but I had two in one jar, good sized and one just disappeared. I had a secure cover too with a rubberband. Do they ever cannibalize?? When school starts in about a week, I plan to bring them in for everyone to observe the final phase.

        • Karen says:

          I’m not sure if they’ll eat each other Laurie! They will fight occasionally, even the little ones. I’d think the only time they’d eat each other (if at all) would be if there wasn’t any food. :/ If it was very small when it went missing it could have escaped. You wouldn’t believe what a small space they can squish and escape out of. The kids’ll love this in school! ~ karen

  28. Ali says:

    This is excellent. I have been doing the same, raising 2 beautiful monarch caterpillars that are at the moment undergoing metamorphosis. I have a patch of milkweed in my garden, and I’m wondering what happened to the other caterpillars and eggs that I definitely saw on there. Do they have predators? What is happening to my wild little buddies?

    • Karen says:

      Ali – Yes. The monarchs have a huge amount of predators. As I mentioned in one of my posts (I think … can’t really remember) I’ve lived in this house with milkweed for over 10 years. I’ve seen plenty of eggs and a few little caterpillars, but not a single one of them has survived to the chrysalis stage. They get eaten by bugs and birds. That’s why it’s so important to bring them inside and raise them. Good for you! Be careful though. It’s addictive. ~ karen!

  29. Rebecca says:

    Is it ok to have mutliple eggs in the same perfect little home?

    • Karen says:

      Rebecca – It is O.K. You just have to make sure you don’t have too many for the size of your container. 3 is the most I’ve done in a glass container and it was bigger than the container you see in my photos. The caterpillars will fight with each other occasionally, so don’t be alarmed. ~ karen

      • Rebecca says:

        Ok! Thanks Karen.

      • Bethany says:

        I have 4 caterpillars right now on a milkweed plant (easier to keep fresh than individual leaves). One of them seems to be a little aggressive today towards the others. You said they may fight occasionally but do they hurt each other? I have tried to keep them from fighting but maybe I don’t need to. Thanks for your help. This is our third year raising them and we always enjoy it – even my 2 year old.

        • Karen says:

          Hi Bethany – Just let them do their thing. They’re always going between phases of sleeping and shedding so they should be fine. If you can be bothered you can isolate the aggressive one. You may have too many caterpillars vying for food on too small of a milkweed. In the wild there would rarely be 4 monarchs sharing a single plant. ~ karen!

          • Bethany says:

            Thanks Karen. I was thinking about isolating the aggressive one too. I just didn’t know if they would hurt each other. There are about 4 empty leaves it could go to but it wants to pester the other ones. Maybe it’s a male and more territorial or something. 🙂

  30. Bob Blaney says:

    Hi Karen,
    Your photos were amazing! My sister Karen and I started this summer raising Monarchs, but not from eggs. We have 10 tropical milkweed plants in planters outside. We bring the caterpillars inside and put them in gallon and 1/2 plastic containers when they get to be around 2″ long. So far, all of them have become butterflies, with 2 more in the chrysalis and 3 getting ready. We have a perennial garden, and every day some of them come back to say hello.
    I have so many questions. It will be October before the last 3 become butterflies. When they are released, do you know if they will miss the migration and die in the cold? We’ve been thinking of keeping them inside, but we really don’t have a place to keep them. We have a butterfly feeder and Orange Gatorade. My sister is wondering if they would poop all over the place. Have you ever kept them inside and what can you tell me?
    Thanks, Bob

  31. Carolina Cabrera says:

    Thank you so much for posting and share with us all these steps! You have done an excellent job. In fact, I’ve checked a few webpages with the same topic about caterpillars turning into butterflies and most of them don’t have this great explanation like yours. So I really appreciate you taking the time to explain us with precise detail how this wonderful creatures do their methamorphosis and especially how to take care of them at home because I didnt know what to do when they started wandering around! I was confused! So thanks to you I could calm down and find them a nice place to pupae. You definitely are one of those people than help us make this planet a better world 🙂

  32. Terri J. says:

    Fantastic!

  33. Kara says:

    Hi Karen,

    Have you ever had a caterpillar pupate when it seems too small, and the antenna are still smooth? Mine is doing that right now. He’s about 3 weeks old but he just doesn’t seem big and plump like the one I saw pupating outside recently. I’m worried if it’s because the milkweed I brought him yesterday is not good enough…it’s leaves are a bit yellow and have some dry spots, but he did eat almost a whole leaf from it. It was the best I could find…it’s getting really hard to find here. I’m worried he’s not going to make it, but he’s already stuck his butt to the cotton ball, so I don’t think there’s anything I can do now. 🙁 I’ll be so sad after watching him grow if he doesn’t make it.

    Kara

    • Karen says:

      Hi Kara. My sister had one that was much smaller than the others and it turned out fine. Another reader on the other hand had one do that and the butterfly didn’t do well. All you can do is wait and see. Fingers crossed for you. ~ karen!

      • Kara says:

        Thanks! I hope he’s just a little shrimpy. Waiting 10-14 days…especially we don’t have to wait for anything these days…is going to be hard! 🙂

      • Kara says:

        Update–she came out of her chrysalis perfect and beautiful. We let her go yesterday morning when it was in the mid-60s…I hope she made it farther south before it got cold overnight. 🙂 So cool knowing she’s out there. Thank you for sparking this interest! I’ll definitely do this again next year.

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