Update: This series first appeared on The Art of Doing Stuff 5 years ago, in 2011.  Since then I’ve re-edited, enlarged and improved all the photos for a MUCH better view of all the amazing stages.




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)



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



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



The Chrysalis (lasts 10-14 days)



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)

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



  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

  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! 🙂


  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.

  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.

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