Tag Archives: Monarch caterpillar

Raising Monarch butterflies

We had a very productive last summer. We raised and released 48 Monarch butterflies. We took in 50 eggs but only 48 made it to butterflies. The whole process was much more time consuming than beekeeping. To prevent disease, we changed Milkweed leaves and cleaned the nursery tanks daily. Once the last butterfly fluffed it wings out in the garden, a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction kicked in. Even if just one butterfly made it through the winter to produce a new generation is better than none.

We started with bringing in Monarch eggs. Searching under Common Milkweed leaves for them and cutting them off the plant.

A cream colored egg is the size of a pinhead
I cut leaves to small pieces, with the egg attached. Put them together in a small plastic container and covered it with a clear lid with a few holes in it. I checked daily for caterpillar hatchlings
Egg that’s just about to hatch will have a darker color at the tip of the egg

We only bring the egg in because the caterpillar stage may have some parasitic insect egg injected in them. Some wasps are known for this.

I transport a newly hatched caterpillar to a nursery tank. It’s very tiny.

At the caterpillar stage, a caterpillar will eat until it reach a point that it needs to molt. It will stop eating and not move until it molts. Then it will resume eating again until it grows big, ready for the chrysalis stage.

Some of the caterpillars we raised. I preferred cutting a branch than an individual leaf; much easier to manage.

Once a caterpillar is ready to pupate, it will walk around looking for a place to attached itself and turn to chrysalis. Most of our caterpillars attached themselves to the top screen cover but some attached under leaves. One escape artist managed to squeeze out from the tank, walked up the bay window and attached itself to the window sill near the ceiling.

Once they find a place, they spin a silk anchor patch, attach themselves and hang down in a ‘J’ shape hanging there for a day before turning into a chrysalis.

A ‘J’ shape before it molt again
First chrysalis stage is in green. It will stay at the chrysalis stage for around 11-14 days before it becomes a butterfly.
24 hours before it become a butterfly, the chrysalis turns blue gray
Then turns quite dark, almost black.
Then translucent just before the butterfly emerges
Top screen in one of our tanks
Various stages of transformation.
Hatched and ready to be transported outside. Wings will typically take a couple hours to dry enough to use.
Transported outside on a plant under the roof so they are protected from wind, rain and birds. They can fly off at their own pace, after their wings stiffen up enough to use.

Hopefully some of their children will come by this summer and we can help them raise their young again.

We also put together a short video of the whole process Enjoy here: https://youtu.be/HP3hu4m93nQ

One touch of nature makes the whole world kin…William Shakespeare

Monarch

Raising More Monarchs This Year:

As much as I want to complain about the heat and heavy rain, the garden seems to enjoy it.  The lawn that I haven’t invaded with extended garden yet is lush green.  Vegetables and flowers are growing profusely.  Except for tomatoes, the heirloom types don’t do well at all.  And insects, they follow their food in.

We are happy to see more Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) this year.  They are not just visiting the flowers, they also mating, laying eggs and producing a new generation in our garden.

Monarch
A male Monarch on Garden Phlox

Monarch
This one taking nectar from Zinnia

Monarch
This female really loves Lantana. She traveled from flower to flower for almost 30 minutes

And then……

Monarch
Mating

I keep checking underneath Milkweed leaves for their eggs and caterpillars.  I found some eggs but it’s hard to look for caterpillars especially when they are small.  They are very good at hiding.  But, I did find some….

Monarch-caterpillar
Probably hatched a day or two ago, with a hole on the leaf that he chewed off

Monarch-caterpillar
A full grown Monarch caterpillar. It’s as beautiful as it’s metamorphosed version

Seeing them in all stages in our garden makes us happy to be contributing to slowing down their possible extinction.  Hopefully they can make it safely back to Mexico for their winter hibernation.

 

 

Helping Monarchs And Other Pollinators

Growing Milkweed

I forgot about an article I had read on the effort to rescue the Monarch butterflies from extinction.   Setting the Table for a Regal Butterfly Comeback, With Milkweed by Michael Wines in The New York Times on 12/20 may be old news but it is still good news for pollinators, and the Monarchs specifically.  It would be very interesting to see wild native flowers growing in the divided area of the highways and along the road again.

The Common Milkweeds (Asclepias syriaca) in our garden grew by themselves, probably from seeds that the wind dropped off.  I let them grow and flower.  To my surprise, the flowers are fragrant and the honeybees love them.  I never thought that they were fragrant as the varieties of Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), its relative, I have grown have no scent.  Now, I have even more incentive to grow them, not just ignore them, in the garden.

For gardeners who like to help the Monarch butterfly by growing Milkweed, please note that:

  • They are easy to grow, but hard to get rid of.  Their shoots can sprout up in unlikely places.
  • All parts of the plant are toxic.
  • The ‘milk’ liquid that oozes out of a broken part of the plant can cause skin irritation.

Aside from the down side, they are drought tolerant, fragrant, and bees and butterflies love them.  The shoots are also edible, when extremely careful and well cooked.  Here’s a short photo profile of this beautiful weed…

Cluster of fragrant flowers
Cluster of fragrant flowers

Close up
Close up

Seed pod
Seed pod

Dry seeds that will germinate where ever the wind takes them.
Dry seeds that will germinate where ever the wind takes them.

Below are Butterfly weeds (Asclepias tuberosa), it’s relative.  They come in very bright colorful colors of yellow, orange and red.  They’re much shorter than the Common milkweed but branch out, not just one straight stalk.  Butterflies, bees and ants love them.

Bright Canary yellow
Bright Canary yellow

Another colorful relative, with bright orange
Another colorful relative, with bright orange

Monarch caterpillar with a hitchhiker Aphid
Monarch caterpillar with a hitchhiker Aphid

Milkweed Tussock caterpillar is also commonly seen on the plant
Milkweed Tussock caterpillar is also commonly seen on the plant

Disappearing Monarch

Heading Toward Extinction?

An article in The New York Times yesterday entitled Monarch Migration Plunges To Lowest Level in Decades by Michael Wines leaves me saddened and disappointed.  Though the article mentioned that it’s “due mostly to extreme weather and a change in farming practices in North America.”  It doesn’t matter whether it is caused by the weather or farming practice, we can help slow the pace of extinction.  With the extreme weather, we may not be able to do much as individuals aside from trying not to leave too large a daily carbon footprint.  Maybe the planet will warm up a little bit more slowly.  But do we really need to get rid of every single Milkweed in America’s conventional farming area?  Do we need to genetically modify our vegetables to have resistance to herbicide so we can keep spraying chemical over the whole area to get rid of the weeds?

It takes the Monarch (Danaus plexippus) two generations for their trip from Mexico to the Northern US and Canada, and one generation to fly back.  They need a place to lay their eggs and food for their caterpillars; that’s where the Milkweed (Asclepias syiaca) comes in.  Monarch caterpillars feed mainly on Milkweed.  Without it, there will not be much chance for the next generation.  Please let some Milkweed grow in your garden so we can actually show future generations how beautiful the Monarch butterfly is and how great their annual migration is.  Years from now, I hope that we will still be able to see actual Monarch butterflies in gardens and meadows, not just in old nature documentaries and where a narrator says  ‘….Once upon a time there were plenty of orange and black butterflies called Monarchs…’

Monarch on an Echinacea bloom
Monarch on an Echinacea bloom

Taking nectar
Taking nectar

Monarch caterpillar on a stem of Milkweed we let grow in our garden
Monarch caterpillar on a stem of Milkweed we let grow in our garden

Monarch

A Little Accomplishment

We have always had Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) in the garden.  It’s an official sign of summer when we see them in our garden.  They travel up from Mexico, their winter gathering place, every year.  It takes them two generations for their trip up north, but only one generation flying back.

I’ve learned that their population is in decline since we humans have been eliminating their caterpillar favorite food source – Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca).  Industrial farming indiscriminatingly kills all the weeds along their flight path.  I know Milkweed is very invasive and poisonous if you eat it raw.  The milky sap that oozes out of a cut on one will make you itch if it get on your skin.  However, I’m not ready to see the Monarch butterflies pushed toward extinction.

I don’t know how the first Milkweed got in to our garden, but I had tried to get rid of them too.  Not much of a success; they keep coming up every spring wherever the roots have spread.  Once I learned that the well being of the Monarch population depends on this weed, I changed to digging them up and replanting them along our property.  This year is the third year I have been doing that.

The Monarchs have shown their appreciation for the first time this summer.  They mate in the garden.  I guess they have learned that they can depend on our garden for the survival of their young.  Since I saw them mating, I’ve been checking the Milkweed every couple of days.  Finally, they made me really happy today.  I found two caterpillars with bright yellow, white and black stripes munching on the Milkweed.  Just the sight of them made today a perfect day!

Monarch taking nectar from an Echinacea flower.

They decided to start their next generation in our garden.

Monarch caterpillar on a Milkweed stem.