HOW TO RAISE A MONARCH BUTTERFLY PART I

Every year at this time I share my 5 part series on How to Raise a Monarch Butterfly because this is the perfect time of year to go out Monarch egg hunting.

I’ve been raising Monarchs inside my house for about 10 years now so I consider myself a bit of a Monarch raising expert. Not that raising Monarchs takes much expertise.  If you can identify and find milkweed you basically qualify for the Monarch raising Olympics.

But this year things took a bit of a turn. I’ve tried raising 3 monarchs and all of them have died, including little Liberace who you know from my Instastories on Instagram.  My neighbour Jane mentioned the same thing has been happening to her. Then it hit me.

BTK

BTK is short for Bacillus Thuringiensis Kurstaki.   It’s a natural bacterium found in soil.  The #1 choice for organic gardeners wanting to get rid of Gypsy Moths.  It has no known toxic effects on people, animals, plants,  fish, birds or bees. It all sounds lovely and barefoot in the garden while wearing a crown of flowers, doesn’t it?  BTK is sprayed on plants that get infested with caterpillars, the caterpillars ingest it, then the caterpillars shrivel up and die.

Parts of my town was aerial sprayed with BTK early this summer because of a terrible moth/caterpillar infestation our area had last year. Another year of the infestation and a huge number of trees –  thousands – would have died.  So the town sprayed BTK to save the trees.

Besides … BTK does NOT affect Monarch caterpillars because they don’t begin to feed on milkweed until after the BTK has lost its power.  It’s only effective for 10 days after the spraying at the most. In our area the trees were sprayed in late may/early June if I remember correctly.

The only thing is … my monarch caterpillars are all dying. And it’s well beyond the 10 day period for BTK to still be effective.  So, I’m not all that sure BTK is as harmless to Monarchs as science says.  My caterpillars all dying this year could just be a fluke.  Certainly.

But just to be safe if you’re trying to harvest and grow Monarch butterflies this year and your area has been sprayed for moths, search out very young milkweed plants that would have sprouted after the spraying in your area.  At the moment I have another egg ready to hatch.  This one I got from a young plant and I will only feed it leaves from very young milkweed that would have grown after the area was sprayed with BTK.  If this one lives, then I won’t have proof that BTK lasts longer than scientists say, but I’ll have some very solid suspicion.

Now, please enjoy learning about how to grow your own Monarch butterfly.

This series first appeared on The Art of Doing Stuff  in 2011.  Since then I’ve re-edited, enlarged and improved all the photos for a MUCH better view of all the amazing stages.

How-to-raise-a-monarch

 

My name’s Karen and I have 3 major embarrassments in my life.

1.  I have square feet a la Fred Flintstone.

2.  Once when I was 13, I laughed so hard at something my friend Debbie said I peed a bit in my Road Runners.

3.  I raise Monarch butterflies every summer.  Even though I don’t have kids.

I must tell you, the Monarchs have elicited the most laughing and finger pointing.

But it doesn’t last.  Once the butterfly-bully actually sees the miraculous transformation, they get all warm and gooey inside.  Like a lava cake.

I once witnessed a hardened criminal (O.K., just some guy who tried to use an expired grocery store coupon) grin with delight after watching part of the Monarch process.

Something just comes over you when you see the amazing, enthralling, captivating sequence that is the life cycle of the Monarch butterfly.  Right in your kitchen!

In fact I think if officials were to implement “The Butterfly Program” into high security jails, inmates would immediately become calmer and friendlier.  Ditto for rehab centres, war zones and grocery stores that only have 1 cashier working on the Friday of a long weekend.

It takes about a month to grow your own Monarch butterfly.  They have 4 distinct stages to their lives:

 

The Egg (lasts 3-6 days)

DSC_0471

 

To give you some perspective, this is what the egg looks like on a small milkweed leaf.

egg

 

The caterpillar (lasts 10-14 days, with 5 growth periods which involve shedding its skin like a snake)

the-caterpillar

 

The Chrysalis (lasts 10-14 days)

chrysalis

 

The Butterfly (lives 2-6 weeks, unless born in the fall, in which case it will become a “migrating” Monarch which will fly to Mexico, live there for 6-8 months, breed, and then die)

the-butterfly
If you too would like to divert attention away from your other embarrassing traits, and grow your very own Monarch butterfly.

Coming up tomorrow … how to find the eggs and what you need to house them in Part II.

→Follow me on Instagram where I often make a fool of myself←

 

45 Comments

  1. Mark says:

    I think the monarch caterpillar is very beautiful.

  2. Bobbles says:

    I am in my bed, sleepy and comfy, ready to nod off, and suddenly my phone beeps. I have an email! Do I sleep and read it in the morning? Do I look but then ignore it. Well that’s the plan. But No! It’s a new episode from you! I crack a smile and crack the post. Oh! Monarchs! Ok, I’ll reads my smile grows. I finish episode 1, do I continue with #2? My smile gets broader, of course I’ll read all five! And now I’m ready for sleep again, still with a big smile, off to dream about butterflies! Thanks!

  3. Kathleen says:

    I will wait for the completion of the series before I pose by ignorant questions. (Or go back and read your previous posts)

  4. Kat says:

    Once again I am so proud of you! I am also so jealous of you. We in Alberta do not have any native milkweed for sale, even David Suzuki can not find a source to get us any of the proper stuff to grow here (I asked). I miss the monarchs from when I was raised back in Ontario. I will now wait for your posts again this year with a sad, yet happy face as I watch and look on from the outer realm of your monarch heaven!

    • Sande says:

      I’m a bit over the top when it comes to monarchs & milkweed. Googling monarchs is what led to me to TAODS and I’ve enjoyed reading Karen’s blog for the past 3 years. I’ve got some ideas on finding showy milkweed seeds – contact me at sarundale@gmail.com

  5. Ter'e Crow Lindsay says:

    I have done this before. It was so cool………
    I have a kit, still buried in my unpacked boxes.
    Thanks for jogging my memory. And yes, I got all squishy inside.
    It’s a beautiful thing to do and to watch.

  6. Carolyn says:

    I’ve been doing this every year since I first read your post! I am now known as the crazy butterfly lady in my circle of friends. I’ve got one caterpillar right now but finding eggs this year has been very difficult…just when a friend wants to try it out with her kids! Have you found any yet?

    • Karen says:

      I’ve found a few, but not at my house like I normally do. I’ve found some at my local community garden. You’re right. They’re way down this year. Last year and the year before there were tons and I thought oh good … they’re making a comeback. But this year has been a bit frightening. I’ve only seen one monarch and haven’t got any eggs from my yard at all. :/ ~ karen!

      • Carolyn says:

        It’s so sad! At least you’ve found some. I think it’s due to a devastating winter storm that froze a lot of the butterflies right before they left Mexico to head back North. Hopefully they will bounce back! You are really creating awareness through your blog so more people will help. It worked for me!

        • Karen says:

          Thanks! And I actually went out and looked again yesterday and found a few eggs in my front yard on some of the younger milkweed plants! So all is not lost. 🙂 ~ karen!

        • Carolyn says:

          Yahooooo! I will keep hunting too 🙂

  7. Ron says:

    There is a lot of milkweed growing in my area & I have occasionally looked for eggs without success.
    1. Do butterflies lay their eggs at specific times throughout the summer?
    2. If so, how will I know to when it’s laying time?
    3. Does local climate and/or weather affect when eggs are laid?
    4. How many generations will be born between arrival in spring and departure in the fall?

    • Karen says:

      Hi Ron! 1. They lay all summer right into the beginning of fall. 3. Eggs are laid as long as Monarchs are around and it isn’t raining out of course. 4. 4 generations are born through a summer. They live about 2-3 weeks. Except the last ones born in August, which are the ones that migrate to Mexico. These monarchs live through their journey to Mexico and then hibernate until next spring when they mate once more to create the spring Monarchs. That’s when they finally die after 6-8 months. ~ karen!

  8. Jenifer says:

    I am all over this series. I bought some milk week seed, nurtured it and then planted it in my flower bed. (Not very many of the seeds made it unfortunately but I do have enough to claim success!) I haven’t checked for eggs yet…I don’t want the disappointment. I might check tonight because now I feel like we might have a fighting chance! 🙂

    THANKS!!

  9. Barb says:

    A friend gave us a Monarch caterpillar last year for our granddaughter. We got leaves from her and then her plant was done as she only had the one. We had to sneak leaves out of our local arboretum to feed it. Don’t judge – There were no plants for sale at that time of year. We called everywhere. Then by sneaking leaves out we brought home more caterpillars by accident (they are tiny!) and the cycle was pretty comical. More leaves=more caterpillars=more leaves! They all survived and this year we got smart and planted milkweed. The plants are doing well, the flowers are pretty and I see seed pods forming. I have seen some butterflies around them but no eggs or caterpillars that I see. I will say it’s a wonderful experience to hatch a butterfly and I think how awesome it would be if everyone planted a bit of milkweed in their gardens.

    • Meg says:

      I worked at a plant nursery one summer, and found a monarch trapped in a spider web in a high window, trying to get outside. I climbed up and got it, and brought it outside in my lightly cupped hands. Its little wings were surprisingly strong for what felt like very large flower petals. And as I opened my hands and it launched its little body upwards, I felt utter joy. It’s such a small thing but it was a delight. I have been in love with monarchs ever since!

      I have photos of some caterpillars I found on milkweed in the yard once, they’re also some of my favorite photos I’ve taken. Bright greens, vibrant oranges, crisp black lines with tidy white dots…

      I love them! I should just find some eggs sometime and grow some dang butterflies!!!

  10. jainegayer says:

    One of my most memorable experiences as a teacher was the afternoon my 2nd graders and I took the butterflies we had raised to the front of our school and released them. The kids made a circle and held hands. As I stood in the center of their circle and opened the netted cage we had made from embroidery hoops one of my boys started singing the lyrics to “I believe I can fly.” The rest of the kids joined in and the moment was just magical as we watched the dozen butterflies fly off. I hope some of them remember that moment.

  11. Sharon says:

    I have never “raised” a Monarch myself (yet!), but did find a chrysalis once and kept track of it until the emergence of the beautiful Monarch. What struck me as the most amazing detail of the chrysalis was the very shiny, gold markings, almost as if it was gold-leafed! Just wonderful! Nature is truly splendid.

  12. Theda says:

    I read your post for the first time last year. And later in that year, at our local farmers market, I saw a vendor with a sign that read “adopt a Monarch Butterfly.” I was in! I proudly brought home the milkweed plants and started ‘raising’ Monarchs. Natures drama took place and all my beautiful caterpillars were slain by pesky wasps. I ended up bringing my plants onto my screened back porch when the wasps appeared and put them back out hoping to entice more Monarchs to lay eggs. Much more drama happened on the back porch but at one point we had 40 caterpillars! Out of the 40 we had 12 chrysalis hanging in various places. And out of the 12 chrysalis we released 6 Monarchs!! The chrysalis, which I call, “Natures Bling” was just stunning. It was a moving, almost spiritual experience, it touched me in a way that made me so very present to life. So, all of that to say, ‘Thank you’ for your post. I would have never had this experience had I not read it.

    • Karen says:

      Thanks for letting me know Theda. I’m really happy to have introduced you to the world of Monarchs. 🙂 ~ karen!

  13. Pat Yancey says:

    Monarch larvae (about 10) on milkweed plants facing south, next to my house in San Diego. It is January 21st. Will they get to chrysallis stage even tho nights have been down to 40 degrees ? (70) during the day. Pat Y.

  14. Joel C. Ashbaugh says:

    Hello Karen, my name is Joel.
    I am sending this reply out of admiration as to you and your site.

    I also have Freddy Flintstone feet, or at least big toes…
    What gets me is my balance is for crap… sorry…

    I live in SoCal, sorry for any Cal haters, and over the years started noticing the diminishing population of butterflies in general.
    I grew up in Indiana in at the time was a small kinda town. You waved at everyone because that’s just what you did then. (I still wave and say hello to everyone, just don’t get many waves back…) I am thankful for my upbringing. I have always loved the outdoors. Mother Nature just has a way of making one say, “Wow!”
    Got side tracked…

    But growing up in Indiana, Greenwood to be exact, there was a time of year where the trees in certain areas would be full of beautiful Monarchs. Literally thousands and thousands. I can remember taking a blanket out beneath a tree and being mesmerized by all the floating colors. They would land on you, as if saying hello and then flutter off into the trees.

    I miss those times…

    I am glad to see a return of butterflies. It would not have happened without people like you.

    So, after making a short comment somewhat of a novella…
    My hat is off to you.
    Never be ashamed of who you are. Be proud to have compassion for the frail and unusual in life. GOD made each and everything on this earth for a reason. We need to make sure that even the tiny, annoying, seemingly useless things continue to survive.

    If anyone has a comment as to my manhood, pound it in your ear.

    It takes a real man to have the ability to care, cry and show emotion. Just sayin’…

    Respectfully,
    Joel C. Ashbaugh

  15. Birgit Schmid says:

    Hi Karen,

    Your ‘READ ON….’ link’s not working. I’m on holiday in Germany and Spain hence the early-ish reply 🙂

    Biggi

    • Karen says:

      Hey Birgit! Sorry, it’s because this series of posts is being republished this entire week so the links don’t work. Hard to explain, but that’s the case. I’ll remove the link to remove some frustation, lol. ~ karen!

  16. Jim says:

    Karen – We have had Monarch caterpillars each year for the last 3 years on our Dill plants.
    Problem is I did not see them after a couple of days, so I assume the birds got them.
    I think I will cover them with something next year as they are in a planter.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Jim! Those were actually Swallowtail butterflies. Swallowtails feed on dill and parsley. They look similar to a monarch caterpillar. If they ate all the dill they probably just moved on looking for another host plant. Or they could have just moved on to for their chrysalis stage and attached themselves to a nearby fence or tree. (or they were eaten by birds) ~ karen!

  17. Louann Chalcraft says:

    Your Read On link at the bottom of the page doesn’t seem to be working. The link it’s trying to go to is:

    https://www.theartofdoingstuff.com/how-to-raise-a-monarch-butterfly-part-ii-of-v-2/

    • Karen says:

      Oop, sorry Louann – It’s a technical issue because I’m updating and republishing these posts. I’ll look into it, but regardless that particular post will be up and published tomorrow for reading. ~ karen!

  18. Dawn says:

    http://www.beyondabook.org/

    Last year is awesome woman biked the route of the Monarch butterfly.

    I thought you might enjoy.

  19. Pat Otto says:

    I remember doing this as a child and now I want to do this for my granddaughter. Unfortunately, I have an acquaintance who has cornered the market on Monarch caterpillars! I’m not kidding, she has a caterpillar on just about every butterfly milkweed leaf in her garden. Not to mention the gorgeous orange flowers! Am I just being petty? Do your remaining steps give instructions on how to steal caterpillars?

  20. Theda says:

    That chrysalis…..natures Bling!!

  21. Tracy says:

    You series on Monarchs is how I found your blog in the first place, and helped us a great deal when we first got Milkweed so thank you so much for writing it.

    What symptoms did your Monarchs or caterpillars show before dying? We had bad run of OE infection which killed most of ours a few years ago.

  22. Lynn says:

    I am so happy to hear that you have monarchs where you are. I live in Alberta and it it’s been years since I have seen any here 😔. Growing up they were here an my kids got to see them in the 80’s then came the 90’s and by the end of them monarch butterflies seamed to have disappeared completely from the area. 😟. Truly is a sad as even other areas in Alberta I know have also seen this same disappearance of the beautiful butterfly . If you have them in your area I can only say please help them . Life with out them is not as beautiful.

  23. Susan says:

    It has not been an easy five days. First I have a permanent Charley horse down one leg, due to too much, heavy lifting gardening, I assume, and then I got stung in the face by a white-faced hornet resulting in impaired hearing, one eye swollen shut, the other impaired and a blown up lip which resulted in a lisp. I scrolled down through my emails looking for one from you since I really needed a good laugh or two. Frankly, this post started out very depressing but fortunately, finally, gave me the laughs I needed. Thank you Karen.
    PS I’ve also seen those caterpillars on the herb Rue. You have to look closely, because their camouflage works brilliantly on rue, but they line up along the stems and strip the leaves off.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Susan! Glad to have helped, hope your lisp and swollen eye are gone, lol. Yikes! ~ karen! (p.s. the caterpillars you see on Rue are from Swallowtail butterflies, not Monarchs – Monarchs only host plant is milkweed, whereas Swallowtails go for dill, parsley, rue, fennel and Queen Anne’s Lace.)

  24. Pepper says:

    If you plant parsley the Black Swallowtail butterflies will thank you! They like to lay their eggs on the parsley plant. Just plant a little extra for yourself.

  25. Jeb says:

    I have very few things I remember as a child. One memory that stands out is walking to the train station to meet my dad after work. We would look for monarch catapillers and bring them home, then every day we would get a fresh supply of milkweed to feed it. Later we would watch the transformation with amazement and be just a bit sad when the butterfly flew away.

    One of my greatest memories.

    I have been trying to grow milkweed plants at my condo, but failing. Any suggestions? Keep in mind I really only grow bulbs, sunflowers and funky corn….

    Thank you! Jen

    • Karen says:

      If you can grow all of those I can’t see any reason why you should be able to grow milkweed~ Keep trying. 🙂 ~ karen!

  26. Ruth Hirsch says:

    BTW, I did not happen to screening around. I did have some old off white sheer curtains been saving forever.

    Did it………… Cut off a piece of my old sheer curtain to top my Monarch Mansion (i.e., jar) and they (two: Stripey and stripes 2) have been hatching, eating and frassing and eating. Last night, was out with flashlight to cut some new Milkweed for the little guys.

    thank you thank you thank you from Saugerties (several of us are parenting Monarchs this year.)

  27. Ruth Hirsch says:

    yes, rather pleased–
    today I have emptied out frass 2x! And now it is green. Green and very round. Dr Google did not spit out an answer. Help if possible.

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