Raising monarch butterflies is an incredibly fun and rewarding experience for all ages. When you take in a caterpillar you increase their chance of survival from around 10% to about 90%! And you get to take care of these cute little bugs!
If you’re going to be raising monarchs it’s good to have a background on theif lifecycle. Monarchs start their lifecycle as an egg. In a few days they will hatch and become a minuscule caterpillar, smaller than the nail of your pinkie. The caterpillar will grow bigger and shed their skin five-six times during their caterpillarhood. After two weeks or so of being a caterpillar your caterpillar will hang in a “J” shape and shed their skin one last time becoming a green chrysalis. The caterpillar will stay in this stage for the next few weeks. Once the former caterpillar emerges they will be a fully formed monarch butterfly!
Monarch caterpillar’s diet consists solely of milkweed. Males can be distinguished from females by a distinct marking on their lower wings. Females lack these spots.
When keeping monarchs the most essential thing you’ll need is milkweed. You’ll need regular access to a plant that you can constantly harvest stalks from. Milkweed can come in various forms and can be bought online or at a nursery.
Designing your Monarch’s Habitat
There are various choices for your monarchs habitat including aquatic tanks, mesh hampers, cages meant for butterflies and more. When choosing your habitat consider the size of the stalks you’ll want to keep. When I keep monarchs I take stalks of milkweed around 18 in. long.
I use a reused an insect lore cage (that was used for painted ladies once) for my monarchs. On the floor of the cage I usually line it with some paper towels. Monarch caterpillars poop (known as frass) a lot so it’s easier if you have something underneath. I place the milkweed stalks in a jar of water so keep this in mind as well.
Finding Monarch Eggs/Caterpillars:
Here are some tips to find your own monarch eggs and caterpillars!
Try finding caterpillars and eggs in the spring or summer. Look on the underside of milkweed leaves to find eggs. Monarch’s generally lay eggs on the underside of leaves though you will occasionally find eggs on the top of leaves. If you’re looking for caterpillars see where there is a hole in the leaves. This might indicate their is a caterpillar near.
Monarch Caterpillars Upkeep:
Make sure your monarch caterpillars have a good amount of milkweed left to eat. Once your caterpillars get bigger they’ll eat a lot so you’ll have to replace it regularly. Clean the cage when it gets messy with frass. Replace your towels and change the water in your container. I like to take my caterpillars out and wash the cage with my hose outdoors.
Eventually your caterpillar will grow to around 2-3 inches and start hanging upside down in a “J” shape. They will become very still and hang their for a few hours before becoming their chrysalis. Some caterpillars choose to do this on the hood of the cage (the majority of mine do) while some will choose to chrysalize on a leaf.
Approximately two weeks after being in a chrysalis a fully formed butterfly will emerge from the chrysalis. The chrysalis will become very dark and you will be able to see your monarch’s wings.
The butterfly will need to dry out their wings for several hours before being ready for release. After this several hour wait they’ll be ready to be freed! When freeing them make sure the temperature is above 60 degrees Fahrenheit and that it’s not raining.
Congratulations! You’ve officially raised a butterfly!