The life cycle of a Monarch butterfly. ©jcleveland

Things I Found Out About Raising Monarchs

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The life cycle of a Monarch butterfly. ©jcleveland

Here are some things that I found out about raising Monarchs from caterpillars to adults:

  1. Our second go at this produced 17 caterpillars, which were about 10 more than I had anticipated. Apparently, if you just leave the plants in the open for a few days, there are many unseen eggs when you put the top back on! We released 11. A couple caterpillars were lost in the beginning (or I overcounted one or two), and two Monarchs were unable to open their wings, so they died. I found that heartbreaking.
  2. A female Monarch and a male Monarch have different bottom wings. The males have a black spot in the center of the wing on each side. I know I released at least one male this first go round.
  3. The caterpillars molt and drop bodies as they go. When they are close to getting ready to go into chrysalis, they go manic and eat everything and then some. I ran out of food from the plants in the planter, but I had back-up plants, so I was a planting fool. Along with cutting the tops off of my mature plants and sticking the tops in the ground, I picked up a couple plants at the local big box store. It worked in a pinch, but I was exhausted by the time they are went into chrysalis status.
  4. If you buy back-up plants in a hurry, make sure that the plants are from a nursery and not a big box store. I think a bad plant may have contributed to the butterflies with the malformed wings.
  5. Their little heads fall off and drop to the bottom of the cage when they become chrysalis. This is disturbing.
  6. They poop a lot. A lot. I used a straw to gently blow the poop off the leaves as they went. The cage was big enough that I could remove it from the dirt and the sides.
  7. They jump off of leaves on a strand of silk if they are scared when they are really little. I was pretty sure that it was being eaten by an invisible spider.
  8. Keep them sheltered from the hot sun and storms, and don’t release them in the rain.
  9. If you upset them by just being there as they are eating, they will all start to shiver and shake like they’re scared. It might be a warning mechanism, but it is weird. Even if you talk while you’re taking care of them, they huddle or shiver.
  10. If they get into a fight, expect a lot of head butting. They fight over leaves, and it’s everyone for themselves.
  11. They are caterpillars for about 14 days, and then they are chrysalis for 7 days, so it takes almost a month to go from worm to butterfly. There are a few moltings between tiny and huge.
  12. If you see an egg on a leaf, if it is grey, it is because they are getting ready to hatch. They will eat their own egg. I read that black eggs were bad eggs, but I didn’t do a lot of research on this.
  13. These butterflies have a host of pests and diseases, so if you do this, be prepared to watch them for problems. I have been lucky, but I’ve read some stories about serious problems. When in doubt, check the internet for references.
  14. They live 2 to 6 weeks unless they are the super generation that migrates from the United States to Mexico, and then they can live months. My Florida Monarchs do not migrate far, so they don’t live long.
  15. They lay about 200 or so eggs, and the female can lay eggs within a few days of becoming a butterfly.
  16. Florida offers year-round butterflies.
  17. Only buy milkweed that belongs to your region or the butterflies get a bit confused.
  18. Plant other flowers like lantana and butterfly bushes to encourage the butterflies to stay, eat and breed.
  19. Check out other host plants for the other butterflies in your yard and help them propagate.

I hate that they are endangered, and I know that I can never raise enough to make a big difference, but I hope to help some butterflies live on. 

Since kids love bugs, why not help them understand how important the pollinators are to the world?

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