Friday, September 1, 2017

Raising Monarch Butterflies

If you've followed my blog at all, you know that every summer, we gather all the Monarch eggs and caterpillars off the milkweed that grows along our road to raise inside. We do this for several reasons. Monarchs are considered endangered because of loss of habitat. Our county mows all the weeds on the edge of the roads to help with viability, but they often take down a lot of milkweed in the process. So we gather the eggs and caterpillars off of the milkweed, before the mowers come through. 

 In the wild, statistics show that only one out of every 10 eggs survives to maturity.  By raising them inside,  i've had a 85-90% survival rate. Almost ever year i lose one or two to parasitic wasps, which infect the caterpillars before i've collected them. Occasionally the caterpillars will cannibalize other monarch eggs  if they come across them on the leaves, and i've lost a few to different monarch diseases. However, compared to a 10% survival rate of those in the wild, i'm okay with an occasional loss. 

 Raising monarchs is not difficult at all. You just have to have a good source of milkweed to feed them.  You want to look for fresh green disease and pest free milkweed leaves. Always wash both sides of the leaves before giving them to the caterpillars, to wash away possible fungal disease spores.

i keep my caterpillars in a 10 gallon glass aquarium. Placing the milkweed in a small vase of water to keep it fresh. The caterillars only leave the milkweed when it is time to shed their skin or pupate. They will move to the top of the aquarium to create their chrysalis, so you need to make sure they can not escape through the holes in the wire mesh top.

My cats like to sit on top of the aquarium, and the silk holding my chrysalis to the top because loose. So i moved them to a branch instead. It also is a good idea to move them if you have to continuously open to the top to add more milkweed. 

The chrysalis can be moved buy getle tugging on the silk that attaches it to the top. Then i use hot glue to glue the silk to a tiny square of paper. Then hot glue the paper to the twig. Be careful not to get the hot glue on the cremaster (black part above chrysalis) or the actual chrysalis. 

This photo shows the silk used to attach the chrysalis to the top. As you can see,just by the weight of the butterfly,  It's quite easy to pull it off with out damaging the chrysalis. When the butterfly first emerges is wings are crumpled and it's body is swollen and filled with fluid. The butterfly pumps the fluid from it's abdomen into it's wings to unfurl them. 

 Once the wings are open and the new butterfly will sits for several hours until the wings are dry.  Drying time depends a bit on the weather. On rainy or humid days it takes longer for the wings to dry.

So far we have released 6 butterflies, and i have 8 chrysalis and one more caterpillar still munching.  Raising caterpillars is easy to do and fun for the whole family. We all love releasing the butterflies and watching them fly away and sometimes return to the flower garden a day or so later.

Raising monarchs is something we look forward to every year, and even if they were not endangered, i know we would continue to do it. Ever year i plant more and more flowers for the butterflies and am still working to establish a large patch of milkweed that is just for the monarchs. i like to believe that although i can not save all the monarchs from the county mowers, disease, parasites and destruction of habitat, i can still make a difference to a few.

What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls a butterfly. ~Richard Bach


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