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