How to Raise a Monarch Butterfly

I warned you before that if you didn’t read the previous posts to this series you might get pregnant or warts.

I would like to apologize for this.  You will not get pregnant nor grow warts if you don’t read the previous posts on How to Raise  a Monarch Butterfly.

I don’t think.  In a world where eggs become caterpillars, caterpillars become blobs of goo and goo becomes a butterfly, who can be sure?  I’m fairly confident you could get a rash at the very least.  So read the previous posts 1, II, III and IV.
How to Raise a Monarch Butterfly Part 5

Very little happens in the 10 days the Monarch is in its chrysalis stage.  Nothing in fact.



And then on Day 9 …


On the evening of the 9th day your chrysalis will start to turn clear. You’ll be able to look right through the chrysalis at the butterfly inside.




By the next morning your chrysalis will be completely see through. Between 9 and noon your butterfly will emerge. I have no idea why that’s the case, but every single time I’ve done this the butterfly always emerges between 9 and noon.  (the butterfly can take anywhere from 10-14 days to emerge … mine have always been on day 10)


And it will look a little something like this …













Once the butterfly has emerged it will rest for a few hours. It will pump blood into its wings by opening and closing them. As soon as it’s starting to act restless (usually after 2-3 hours) you can take it outside. Just bring the bowl outside, stick your finger or a stick into it and let the butterfly climb on. Rest it on a flower or leaf or branch.

It may rest a tiny bit more before flying away forever.

You will be sad.  And you will be happy.

The Butterfly Effect.

(def) the phenomenon whereby a small change at one place in a complex system can have large effects elsewhere. It is the idea that a butterfly’s wings might create tiny changes in the atmosphere which may ultimately change the path of your life.

A butterfly can theoretically, with one small movement, alter the course of the universe forever.

Right now you’re probably thinking how extraordinary it is that a butterfly has the power to create change in the world.

Even more extraordinary is the fact that you have the power to create a butterfly.


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  1. Ann Visco says:

    We got some milkweed plants fro my neighbor last spring and right away we got eggs. One even made it to butterfly. What I am worried about is that we got a plague of aphids on the milkweed. I keep hosing them off and they keep coming back. I’m trying to find something to get rid of the aphids and keep the caterpillars. I will definitely try to bring some eggs inside.

  2. Beth says:

    Hi Karen-
    I just started collecting the eggs and caterpillars in the last week. I even found a large caterpillar a couple of days ago that is about to make it’s chrysalis! My question is, should I assume this is the last generation of the year? I have quite a few eggs and tiny caterpillars… not that I would do anything differently, I’m just curious. I go to Florida for part of the year too, so I’m wondering if I can raise them in both locations. I might take some of my milkweed seed from Kentucky with me to Florida.

  3. Deb says:

    Great reading! I have spent soooo much on Milkweed it’s unbelievable. I even cut stems and re root them. I swore I wasn’t going to raise them this year after moving from Fort Myers to Ocala area. Once I started seeing butterflies I couldn’t help myself! I use a butterfly castle. You can get them on line or at Butterfly gardens. Last year I released 300. This year I have my first 30 chrysalis. Hopefully my milkweed grows fast!

    • Karen says:

      My post on how to build a monarch enclosure gets published today! I’ll have to Google Monarch castles. It sounds very grand, lol. ~ karen!

    • Beth says:

      Deb- I’m in SW Florida 1/2 the year. So you had success with the milkweed and the butterflies in Fort Myers???

  4. Ruthann Kowalski says:

    Karen I have to tell you this article inspired me to cultivate some milkweed in my yard. But alas no Monarchs?? But this year I did notice some brightly colored caterpillars munching on my Dill. We looked them up and they looked like swallow tail caterpillars. So inspired by you we transferred them to a small fish tank with a screen lid and feed them more Dill. Lo and behold we got four chrysalis. Two have emerged and happily flitting around. The grand kids (and us) really enjoyed the experience and will try again next year. Thanks for the inspiration to Do Stuff. It wasn’t hard at all.

  5. Jan in Waterdown says:

    Couldn’t of, wouldn’t of done it without ya… thanks! 😀

  6. Jan in Waterdown says:

    She’s out! I feel like I’ve given birth without all the pain and icky stuff. The solid green stage only lasted about one day. Then, this afternoon she had emerged, so when she finally crawled out of the watering can, I transferred her to some black eyed susans and took tons of pics. I sat with her for a couple of hours while she crawled around working her legs and wings and I crawled around a glass of chardonnay. When it got too cool (can you believe it?) and the sun was gone, I finally left her still clinging to a stalk of oat grass. Once the sun warms her tomorrow, she’ll probably be gone…. wonder if she’ll live long enough to make it to Mexico?

  7. Kent H French says:

    Excellent article Karen. I was just outside this afternoon, working in the garden, and I noticed a Monarch fluttering around a vine of milkweed growing along the fence line. As I observed her I noticed she was laying eggs! I watched in wonder for about 10-minutres and she probably laid 50 or so eggs. Well, now the adventure begins!

  8. Cheryl Peters says:

    I’ve released 3 butterflies so far and expect to release about 30 more in the next several days. Your instruction has been invaluable.

  9. Ron says:

    Great tutorials. Is there somewhere you can go (website etc.) that will tell you when eggs are being laid in your area so that you don’t have to keep checking every day? Or is there a specific timeframe when eggs are laid? I’m in Etobicoke.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Ron. The eggs are laid from June until September. You really just have to go outside and look every day. If you find a clump of milkweed somewhere chances are there’ll be an egg on it. The hard part is recognizing what’s an egg and what’s just a speck. Bring reading glasses or a magnifying glass to make identifying it easier. Once you find your first egg you’ll get better at recognizing them. :) ~ karen!

  10. emily welker says:

    Karen! Your timing is uncanny. I had just read your whole treatise on butterfly husbandry on Saturday and thought to myself, “Gee, I should do this for my toddler to watch. I bet she’d love it.”

    Lo and behold, I’m just about to pitch the faded flowers out of the arrangement on my dining room table before Sunday dinner when what do I find on the milkweed leaves? A monarch caterpillar. Kismet, I tell you.

    Question: I have the little guy now in a fairly large vase with the milkweed stuck upright in a flower frog. Would it be okay to add about an inch water to the bottom of the vase (as he was presumably living in such conditions in my flower arrangement) or do I run the risk of drowning my new little friend? Really hoping not to traumatize my little girl.

    • Karen says:

      There’s no need for the water Emily so I’d get rid of it. Caterpillars aren’t frogs so being in a jar with water might create too much humidity for the thing and who knows what will happen then, lol. Just put the milkweed stem in a glass of water and rip off a leave daily and put it in the jar with the caterpillar. ~ karen!

  11. Mary W says:

    I read it every year – and seem to learn new things each time. It might be your brilliant writing just takes time to enter my pea brain but more than likely, it is due to my age and the wonderful way that I forget stuff then learn it all over again – truly exciting. Life never gets old but my body sure is like a limp antennae – LOL. I loved your last sentences. Brilliant!

  12. Nicole says:

    Hi Karen, I have a few questions for you. I have several eggs on my milkweed presently. What if I were to put a few of them in the same container? I have an old fish tank. Also, would they be okay in our air conditioned house? (Keep in mind I’m menopausal, lol, I can’t go without.) And lastly, what if I’m not home when they hatch? Would they be okay until I get home to release them?

    • Karen says:

      Hi Nicole. It kind of depends on how many eggs and how big the fish tank is. Monarch caterpillars will fight with each other the odd time if they feel territorial but generally get alone. Air conditioned house is fine. After emerging it takes them a few hours to fully develop and dry out. So they should be fine until you get home providing you don’t work 48 hour shifts. ;) ~ karen!

  13. Heather says:

    I’ve been changing the leaves each day but I didn’t see any new chew holes this morning, and now I’m having trouble seeing the three caterpillars that were in my big vase. Do you think this means they died? :( Any idea why some die, despite our best efforts?

    • Karen says:

      Yep they could have died of disease. Or they could have wandered away if they were very small. OE is a parasite that can kill monarch caterpillars too. Some people recommend washing your milkweed as well before feeding it to the caterpillars. I’ve never had any troubles or diseases at all until this year. So it’s probably just a bit of a crap shoot. :/ ~ karen!

  14. Dale R Lacina says:

    90% of the Monarch butterflies I release, I set them on a flower for a sip of nectar but they zoom up to the top of the trees in our yard. Best guess is a natural instinct to go up for protection. Or they are just so happy to be free from 10 days stuck in that chrysalis!

    For those of you constant readers of Karen and her DIY life and are interested in a great set of videos on raising Monarchs, give this science teacher a viewing. He gets into the nuts and bolts that Karen has introduced you.

    Karen, I love the photo work of the life cycle of Monarchs you have provided. Great stuff!!!

  15. Kate C says:

    Wow, Karen–I love a story with a good ending! This one gave me chills…! Thanks for this.

  16. Julia says:

    I just went and found two monarch eggs on some milkweed! The eggs are on separate leaves, but on the same plant. Should I separate them? Or will two in the same inclosure be fine? My glass is the size of a cookie jar.

    • Karen says:

      Excellent! They’re normally fine in the same jar. The odd time they’ll fight, but I often keep two in the same jar as long as the jar is big enough for them both to chrysalis and open up at the same time and it sounds like yours is plenty big. Good luck! ~ karen!

  17. Joe and Maureen says:

    Got it . Thanks again Karen

  18. Joe and Maureen says:

    Well done Karen. Definitly will have to plant milkweed in our yard. We have grown Asclepias Tuberosa for years under the assumption that this perennial was the natural food of butterflies. Would you have any knowledge if this is correct? And would you know if Monarchs can lay eggs on these plants?
    Thank you

    • Karen says:

      HI there! Asclepias Tuberosa is low on the list of preferred milkweed plants for Monarchs but they will use it if there’s nothing else around. The butterflies like it for nectar though from the flowers. Standard, side of the road, milkweed is the most attractive the Monarchs in general for laying eggs. ~ karen!

  19. Janice says:

    I enjoyed every bit of this.
    And I’m so happy to be seeing a lot more monarchs this year. We have a long way to go but its a good start.

  20. Meredith says:

    Some questions:

    What is the total time investment, beginning to end, approximately?
    Can you do more than one at once?
    Do you think I will be able to do this in Pennsylvania starting in September?

    This was such a great series!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Meredith. I couldn’t judge how much time it takes in terms of manual labour. Not very much. The process from egg to butterfly takes 1 month. You can do this in September. The monarchs you raise at that point will be the ones that migrate to Mexico and live much longer than a “summertime” monarch. ~ karen!

  21. TucsonPatty says:

    Thank you for reposting this, Karen. I love the photography, and the patience it takes for the care-taking and the waiting for the next thing to happen so you can capture it on camera for our edification and enjoyment. Whew! Thanks again.

    • Karen says:

      You’re very welcome Patty! It was a bit of a “thing” to get all the pictures and videos, lol. So I’m glad you liked it. ~ karen!

  22. Dale says:

    Make sure those caterpillars don’t fall in the chicken coop or they will be gone in a peck…gulp!!!!

  23. Jennie Lee says:

    I would say that the fact that your butterflies consistently come out of the chrysalis early, on day 10, implies that you are a very caring and nurturing butterfly caretaker, Karen. You should be proud!

  24. Barbie says:

    This is totally on my bucket list…..

  25. LINDSAY CUDINI says:

    You are amazing! I never knew any of the things you have revealed in this series of articles. Thank you so much!
    I now pick up milkweed pods and release them to grow in various areas of our yard. I have only seen one Monarch butterfly this year.

  26. Dale says:

    Yesterday I found a Monarch that had just come out of a chrysalis and was flexing its wings. It had been hanging on a chain link fence so I carried it to zinnia flower in our raised flower bed. Shortly thereafter, we saw it dancing around almost all of our 40 plus milkweed plants we have been tending for the arrival of the Monarchs. We assume she was laying eggs though we could not find any on the leaves she had been placing her lower abdomen. Last year we raised 8 caterpillars to butterfly. Was she a descendant of that kaleidoscope?
    By the way, thank you Karen, as we were searching last summer for info on how to raise a Monarch, we found your Uber-informative postings and have been an avid follower of your take on this fantastic journey we call…… life!

  27. Nicole Brassard says:

    Thank you for sharing this awsome and beatiful project.

  28. Julia says:

    Nothing but miraculous. Thanks for the details :)

  29. KathyB says:

    I remember the first time I saw a monarch chrysalis with it’s gold trim. Gold! Metallic gold! I was blown away. Of course I did do some drugs in the 60s so I’m pretty easily blown away. But still. I don’t raise monarchs but I leave all the milkweed plants on our property undisturbed. Groovy.

  30. Dorothy DeYoung says:

    I’m sure I’m not the first to recommend Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver. Its a beautifully written illustration of the butterfly effect.

    • TucsonPatty says:

      Amazing read by an amazing woman and author and activist , if I may say.
      I really love all her books.

  31. Teresa Jennings Richardson says:

    What an awesome science project this could be for a kid over the summer. A wise parent could make quite an adventure out of it, allowing and encouraging their child to document each step of the event from gathering the egg to feeding the baby worm to watching him grow to seeing him hanging around to the great release. I have thoroughly enjoyed your venture raising your baby and letting us have a peek. I think man must have first gotten the idea for stained glass windows from admiring a butterfly wing. I wonder what kind of creature those hateful tomato worms morph into? But I don’t wonder enough to let one hang around long enough to find out. I prefer my tomatoes. Thank you for sharing your amazing butterfly adventure with us.

  32. Kris says:

    That last paragraph was worth reading all five posts even if you didn’t raise a butterfly. A beautiful metaphor for life.

  33. whitequeen96 says:

    What BEAUTIFUL photography! I remember the green chrysalis from before; it looks bejeweled with the gold spots. I don’t remember the other ones, but they’re also gorgeous. Breathtaking!

  34. Kathleen says:

    Fascinating reading. Thank you, Karen.

    And I only read all the posts so that I didn’t fall pregnant. Warts I can live with! :)

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