Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Raising Monarchs 2015

Every year we walk down our road and collect all the monarch butterfly eggs and caterpillars we find.  We live on a rural road and the county comes through and mows down all the weeds along the road to improve visibility several times during monarch season. Unfortunately any monarchs caterpillars that are on milkweeds get killed or are left without food. So we collect them, and raise them inside where we can provide a safe environment and fresh milkweed daily.

i thought i would share the process.

Once the egg is laid, it takes about 4-6 days to hatch. The baby monarch caterpillar eats it's way out of the egg and then it eats the egg. When it hatches the caterpillar is about 2mm long.  We collect any eggs we find because their are many predators that will take/eat them.

The caterpillar will shed it skin 5 times during the larval stage. When it hatches it is called a first Instar caterpillar. Each time it molts (sheds it's skin) it becomes the next instar.  The caterpillar in day 5 is a 2nd Instar. Day 7 is a 3rd instar.

The caterpillar continues to eat and grow.  In approx. 2 weeks time, the caterpillar with be 3000 times larger than the day it hatched. The caterpillar in day 11 is 4th instar, and day 14 is the 5th and final instar.  

Day 15 the caterpillar stops eating and begins to wander around the enclosure. Once it finds a suitable place it will spin a silk mat and hook it's cremaster into it and hang upside down in a J position. The caterpillar hangs in this position for 18-24 hours. Then it sheds it's skin for the last time and the chrysalis begins to form. When the chrysalis is first formed it is very soft and vulnerable. After a few hours it will harden.

The caterpillar remains in the pupal stage for  around 10-14 days.  When it is getting close to emerging the chrysalis will darken, and then within 12-24 hours the butterfly will be visible inside.  The chrysalis splits and the butterfly ecloses (emerges).

When the butterfly first emerges, it's abdomen is large and swollen and it's wings are tiny. The abdomen then begins to contract, pumping fluid from the abdomen into the wings. Slowly, the wings begin to unfold and straighten. The wings are still damp and soft. The butterfly will spend an hour or more hanging upside down until the wings are fully dry.  

When the butterflies wings are dry he will begin opening and closing them.  This is when we know to take them outside and release them. 

We have released 7 monarch so far, and have 14 chrysalis and another 10+ caterpillars still munching on milkweed. Monarchs are becoming endangered due to the use of pesticides and the loss of habitat. In the wild only one in 10 will survive to adulthood, so raising them inside really increases their chance of survival. If it's wonderful way to teach metamorphosis first hand, but also a great way to help out the monarch!


  1. Amazing! what a great step by step~ I totally want to do this next year, thanks for sharing your knowledge with all of us.. :)

  2. I think it is awesome that you do this! I wish I lives in an area I could do it too. When I was a kid we used to catch caterpillars, collect a lot of what they were eating, take them home & wait to see what they would turn into. Sometimes Monarch, sometimes Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, sometimes moths. Once it was actually a Caterpillar Wasp, the caterpillar having had the misfortune of being host to an internal wasp egg ... SO Disappointing!!! It was so wonderful to watch the miracle of a butterfly emerging, inflating its wings and then flying away. Even though I can no longer do it thanks for bringing back some good memories. ; )

  3. This is awesome. Great for the kids, and it seems like they are changing on a daily basis! I think we'll attempt it this year, but i'll need to find a lot more information before then...if you have any good links for more reading, i'd love to know!