Well here it is folks! Want to get started raising Monarch butterflies? Here ya go!
First off, let me state that we are in NO WAY a professional butterfly raisers. This will be our third year raising them, and this is how we did it. I’m sure google can lead you to “professionals” or those pesky scientists, but we just learned on our own.
First you have to have the Monarchs. I just learned today, that yes – you can buy them! Now, honestly, I want to know who would want to capture a Monarch, put it in an envelope, and mail it!! DO NOT DO THAT!!! If you plant milkweed, they will come!! So there is your first step – plant milkweed. Now there are several types of milkweed but you want the ones that are native to your area. Here in Ohio – butterfly weed, common milkweed, and swamp weed (these are the common names by the way) are native (which means they are commonly grown here and do very well!). Asclepias is the scientific name for the genus of milkweed. You can buy milkweed from a garden center, such as Oakland Nursery, or the offsite garden center of Kessler’s on 256 as you head into old Pickerington. Call before you go to make sure they have them, and ask if they use pesticides. If they do, DO NOT buy from them. Each of these milkweeds can be grown in the ground or in a pot. I haven’t tried growing one in a bag that I can hang, but maybe this year I will try one. They need lots of sun, so plant it in a sunny spot, once the outdoor temps reach above 50 degrees consistently. Then water the plant when it looks a little wilty (do not over water it) and wait for a pregnant female Monarch to come fluttering by. (Please don’t email me about how to tell if the Monarch that you see is pregnant or not, or if it’s female or not!!) If you see one, and she stops for a second on your plant, chances are she has laid her eggs. Maybe a few, maybe ALOT!! After she has flown away, go look at the leaves of your milkweed. More than likely, the underside. There you should see what looks like a tiny white speck (about the size of a pencil lead). If you have a magnifying glass, use that to look at it. If you don’t that’s okay. Next you will want to cut the leaf with the white speck (egg) and bring it inside. Find a CLEAN AND SANITIZED preferably shallow food container (with lid). Line the bottom of it with a paper towel, and put the leaf on it. Egg side up, please. Every few hours, look at it and make sure that the leaf is still moist. If not, give it a little sprinkle of water. Close the lid and…wait. Follow this process until about 3 – 5 days have passed. One of those days, you will open the container and the egg will be gone! Close by, or maybe even climbing up the side or on the lid you will find the tiniest little caterpillar – about 2/10ths of an inch long – just wandering around. It is looking for food. What food you ask? More milkweed leaves! Just go cut another piece off your plant and bring it to the little guy. He will find it. Or if you just can’t stand it, use the partial leaf and “scoop” him up and lay him back on the bottom of the container. He will thank you! If by chance, you have managed to find more than one egg – GOOD FOR YOU! You can keep about 10 eggs in the container at a time. As you feed them they will grow. They are eating, pooping, growing machines!!! What does their poop look like? Black dots. Don’t let them crawl in it. Put in a new paper towel and transfer the leaves (with caterpillars attached) to the new paper towel. Spritz with a bit of water, and you’re good to go.
Whew! That seems like a lot doesn’t it? Well we are only in the first instar – only 4 more to go. Now while the little ones are growing in their container, you are going to want to find a bigger one! We had a 10 gallon fish tank, with a mesh style lid. But there are butterfly habitat’s that you can buy online. We chose to use the fish tank, because we had one. Clean and sanitize the enclosure. Wash with soap and water, then use an alcohol solution (a teaspoon of 70% rubbing alcohol to a quart of water) to sanitize. Let it air dry or dry with a paper towel. Line the bottom of the tank with a paper towel (its easy to clean up the poop (frass)) with the paper towel. Move the now bigger caterpillars into the larger enclosure. That frees up the old container for new eggs, if you’re lucky enough to get more! So, the caterpillars (aka cats) are bigger now, and they want to eat more. So what do you do? We improvised by using old pill bottles with snap on lids (they’re easier than the screw on kind, but either will work). Put a hole in the middle of the cap (an icepick works really well, so does a paring knife), and fill with water. Go get full leaves with stems attached or “top” the branches of your plant, even, and put them in the holes of your pill containers. You can buy floral tubes online, but you have to buy them in 100 ct. packages or even more. Not necessary. Place the containers on the bottom of your enclosure. The cats will find the milkweed. You will keep doing this, over and over, getting more and more milkweed for the cats to eat, because they are going to grow to over 2000 times their initial size. Amazing. Cats like fresh milkweed leaves to eat. Keeping them in the pill containers filled with water or the floral tubes with water, keeps the milkweed from drying out so quickly.
One day you are going to look at your enclosure and see that all the cats or at least some of them have crawled to the top of the enclosure and they have stopped eating. About 12 hours after that, they will drop into what looks like a “J” position hanging from the lid by their butt. They will have formed a solid white webbed dot that keeps them attached to the lid. Within 24 hours they will have formed a chrysalis, not a cocoon, from themselves. It looks like a oblong soft green stone, with a shiny gold line around the upper middle. About 10 days following that, the chrysalis will turn black, and if you look closely, you will be able to see the Monarch inside of it. Within a few hours, the Monarch will emerge and look kind of wrinkly. Leave it alone, and let it hang there for a minimum of 2 hours. You will notice that it’s wings will fill out and grow larger. By hanging there, they are drying their wings. Once you notice that the Monarch is spreading its wings several times, it is time to release it. Hopefully, it is a sunny day, and warm (not under 70 degrees). To release it, place your finger just under it’s head and it will crawl onto your finger. Take your other hand and kind of cup it over the butterfly so he/she doesn’t fly away in your house. Go outside and raise your hand to the sky. The Monarch may hesitate but then will fly off in search for food (nectar flowers) and a mate. The cycle will then start over.
Now this whole process only takes about 28 to 30 days to complete. So from as early as April to September, may even October, you can spend that time raising Monarch butterflies! The more you raise, the more that will migrate back to Mexico to overwinter. And since the species is on the verge of extinction, you will be helping to keep it from going there. We need the Monarchs. Not only are they beautiful, but they are pollinators, just like bees, birds, and other good insects. We need pollinators to make food! Food for us humans to eat! It’s a win-win situation. They just need our help!! Do not feel bad if you give it a try, and it doesn’t work out. At least you tried. It takes patience and a bit of work, but the end result and satisfaction is worth every minute. Trust me!!!