Raising Monarch Butterflies-Old School Style
Almost every day, my sons and I go for a walk. They will head out on their bikes and I follow behind on foot. Near the beginning of the walk, there is a path full of huge towering weeds. My oldest son noticed all the monarch butterflies fluttering around. “Look at all the monarchs mom!” This is when I start seeing all the milkweeds. I told him we should see if we can find some monarch eggs on the leaves, but not today. We just started our walk with 7 miles to go and had nothing along to carry them back if we did find some. “Remind me on the weekend and we’ll come back to look.”, I said to him.
The weekend comes and he asks if we can go searching. “Sure! Let’s get a coffee can and head out!” Since we had never searched for monarch eggs or caterpillars before, we had no idea what to look for. All I knew was monarchs love milkweeds. We got to the patch and started examining the milkweeds. I carefully bent the plants over to look at the underside of the leaves. And there one was! An teeny tiny baby caterpillar! We found 5 in just a few minutes and some possible eggs.
We got back home and started poking slits in the top of the coffee can for air. We carefully placed all the leaves in the bottom. Multiple times that day, we checked on them. They were quite active! Moving to the underside of the leaf, no matter which way we flipped it. Our original possible eggs turned out to not be eggs. (We found eggs at a later date while picking milkweed for food. They happened to be attached to the food leaves and hatching took place within 3 days.) We started to do some research to see what to expect out of these little guys. We learned the life cycle, from egg to monarch is only 30 days! They spend the first 2 weeks eating, pooping, growing, pooping….they poop a LOT! I emptied the poop out in the morning and evening, along with the older leaves they weren’t interested in anymore.
When they got fairly big, about 2 inches long, we moved them to mason jars. I used a square of paper towel as the lid secured by the jar ring. It allowed enough air to circulate and kept them in there. Every few days, they molt. I noticed whenever they molted, they would leave the leaf to hang out on the wall of the coffee can or jar. They also took a break from eating during this time, but were back at it, hungrier than ever the next day! Make sure you have a ready supply of fresh milkweed. They were devouring about 2 leaves a day!
Once they start getting ready to j-hook(hang upside down in a hook formation), they will start putting little strands of silk in a large area of the jar as a foundation for where they will end up j-hooking. When they j-hook, it will take them about 24 hours for them to be ready to wriggle out of their skin as a chrysalis.
Now comes the easy part, the 2 week wait for them to emerge from their chrysalis. We left them on our kitchen table to make sure we didn’t miss a thing. We marked the calendar for 12 days from the day they went in. We finally saw orange wings through the chrysalis and knew it wouldn’t be much longer! The chrysalis started getting darker and more transparent. It actually looks almost black just before they emerge.
The next day, about 24 hours later, we were having lunch when we heard a tiny *crack*. We looked down at the jar and the chrysalis was open! We watched as the new monarch came out with its tiny wings. It started to pulse its body which helped make the body longer and pump fluid into the wings, making them bigger and stronger.
It is very important to make sure they have enough room to expand their wings. If they fall to the bottom of the jar, quickly use the paper towel or you finger as something for them to grab onto. If they lay there too long, their wings will dry crumpled and deformed. Some of my guys formed their chrysalis’ low in the jar. I used a stick and a twist tie to suspend the dried leaf higher in the jar.
Once the wings looked full and they gave them a few flaps, we carefully took them outside in the jar. I used the paper towel, that used to be the lid, to gently get them to crawl out. Then I held them next to a flower in our garden and watched them eagerly grab for it. It took them a few hours to gain enough strength to actually fly away, so don’t feel bad if you need to leave them to run to the store. They will most likely be hanging around until you get back!
To see what gender yours are, it’s easiest to tell once they open their wings. Males will have a black dot on each wing(that actually protrudes from the wing). The female has thicker black lines.
I hope you enjoy raising these as much as my boys and I did! Not only was it a fun, educational project…it was FREE!!