Raising Monarchs at home is one way to increase their survival rates and quickly boost population numbers.
Why raise monarch butterflies?
The Monarch population has been declining, and Monarch butterflies are considered endangered. Many Monarchs die in the egg and chrysalis stage. Raising Monarch butterflies at home can improve the survival rates and restore the balance in the ecosystem.
What do you need to raise monarch butterflies?
Below is a list of items you will need to raise Monarch butterflies:
- Net butterfly cage
- Plastic container
- Constant supply of milkweed
- Floral tubes
- Paper towels
- Aluminum foil
- Spray bottle
Step 1: Prepare Your Butterfly Habitat
Purchase or create a net butterfly cage for caterpillars to be moved to once they enter the chrysalis stage. Net cages are the best option for growing healthy caterpillars. Those provide breathable mesh that allows for airflow and keeps humidity levels down.
Find a designated spot to raise the butterflies. This room should have at least 6 hours of natural sunlight each day.
Step 2: Plant Milkweed
Growing your own milkweed plants is the most convenient way to raise butterflies for two reasons. First, you will need a constant supply of milkweed to give your caterpillars every few days.
Second, Monarch butterflies will only lay eggs on milkweed plants. This means you’ll easily collect eggs and caterpillars in your garden.
To grow milkweed, you can purchase milkweed seeds or milkweed starts. Plant milkweed in the spring or fall. Do not spray the milkweed with pesticides, as these chemicals can kill the eggs and caterpillars.
Step 3: Collect Butterfly Eggs or Caterpillars
Monarch eggs are found on the underside of milkweed leaves. Butterfly eggs can be difficult to identify, so collecting hatched caterpillars is the easier option. Search for milkweed leaves with holes that indicate a nearby hungry caterpillar. Monarch caterpillars are covered in yellow, black, and white stripes.
Once you identify a caterpillar or butterfly egg, tear off the leaf it is on. You will need a plastic container with a paper towel. Place the leaf or leaves on top of the paper towel. The container does not need air holes. You will need to mist the leaves and paper towel with water every other day. The container should not be placed in direct sunlight.
Do not collect too many eggs or caterpillars. The container could become overcrowded, which will cause survival rates to decline. About 10 eggs or caterpillars is a good amount to start with.
Step 4: Grow Caterpillars Until Chrysalis
Keep the caterpillars in the container until they are large enough to be moved to the net cage, and place aluminum foil at the bottom of the net cage. Then put paper towels on top of the foil.
Cut stems from milkweed plants to place in the net cage. Be sure to remove all other insects from the milkweed to eliminate predators. Rinse the plant in water to reduce pathogens. After this, place the stems of the milkweed into floral tubes filled with water.
Clean the frass, or poop, out of the bottom of the cage daily. This reduces the chance of diseases killing your caterpillars. Carefully change the paper towels each day, being sure that no caterpillars are stuck onto them during removal.
You will also need to change out the milkweed cuttings every 24-36 hours. You may need to change them out sooner if you notice most milkweed has been eaten.
After 9-14 days in the caterpillar stage, the large caterpillars will stop eating and wander around the top of the cage. They’ll excrete silk to form a cremaster and will hang in a “J” shape. After 6-12 hours, they will form a green chrysalis.
Step 5: Wait for the Transformation
Monarch caterpillars will spend about 10-14 days in the pupa stage. The day before the adult butterfly emerges you will see the orange and black wings of the Monarch butterfly through a translucent chrysalis. If the chrysalis has turned completely black, the caterpillar has died, and the transformation will not happen.
The chrysalis will crack open on its own. The Monarch butterfly will emerge with crumpled, tiny, and wet wings. The butterfly will cling to the empty chrysalis shell for about an hour to let its wings dry so it can fly. You should keep them inside the net cage for about 3 hours after they hatch to ensure their wings are fully dry.
Step 6: Release the Monarch Butterfly
A warm and sunny day is ideal for releasing butterflies. Do not release the butterflies if it’s less than 55 degrees Fahrenheit outside or it’s raining or windy. If you need to keep them in the net while waiting for ideal weather, you will need to feed them. Create a honey mixture by combining honey and water. Soak a cotton swab in the mixture and tie it to the top of the cage for the butterflies to suck on.
Once the weather is right, take the cage outside and open it. The butterflies will find their way out and will fly away.
Watch for stragglers that cannot fly and put them back inside the cage to keep them safe from predators. Extend their waiting period until they are flying inside the cage. This is a sign that they are now ready to emerge and take flight.
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Whitney has always admired the beautiful Kentucky scenery in which she resides. As a child, butterflies would often land on Whitney. Their beauty and constant presence inspired her to learn more about them. She now enjoys writing about the wondrous creature.