Sunday, September 11, 2011

Raising Monarchs

Here is the field that we hope to someday build a house in:

It's a beauty, isn't it? 
Out in that field there are TONS of Milkweed plants.
Do you know what likes to eat milkweed? 
Monarchs!! This is the perfect time for those of us in the North East to go and capture a Monarch caterpillar and watch it metamorphose to a butterfly!! 
To find a caterpillar....look for the milkweeds that have been well-chomped:
And you'll probably find a monarch caterpillar on the underside of the leaf (just gently tip them up).
Those black, yellow, and white stripes can't be missed. :-) 
Make sure to grab some extra milkweed when you're out in the field....when you get home wrap the stems with wet paper towels and them wrap them again with tinfoil to help hold in the moisture....caterpillars don't want to eat old dry leaves. When we captured the caterpillar in the field we put him in this:
But, that won't do for the long haul.
SO, to make a container that will fit for the caterpillar/chrysalis/butterfly you'll need:
Large Vase
Large Elastic

to make this:
~Just pop the milkweed (fresh everyday or wraps the ends as mentioned above), sticks and caterpillar (very gently) into the vase. Wrap a piece of cheesecloth around the top and use the elastic to secure it.

Tips for Raising a Monarch
*Feed them a lot of fresh milkweed when they are a caterpillar, they need to eat a lot!! You don't need to fee them water, they get what they need from the plant.
*When the larvae are ready to shed their skin one last time they will go to the top of their cage and attach themselves with a silken thread. Then they will form a "J" shape and shed their last larval skin. 
*Once the pupa (chrysalis) has been made, you have only to wait 10-14 days for the butterfly to emerge. 
*If your pupa falls, it is possible to pick it up and reattach it. Make sure that the pupa has had a chance to harden (several hours after being made) before handling it. Then, tie a string around the silken thread and, using a dab of hot glue, reattach the pupa to someplace high within the cage. If the silken thread isn't intact, you can actually hot glue a string to it....just allow the glue a chance to cool a tiny bit (but still be sticky) before you touch it to the top of the chrysalis.
*Adult Monarchs usually arrive in the mid morning. You can tell they are close to breaking out of the chrysalis when you can see the black and orange of the wings through the outer shell.

*Allow the butterfly 3 to 4 hours of time in the cage to inflate and dry it's wings. Then, if the day is warm (above 60 degrees or they cannot fly) you can let them go....preferably in an area with lots of fresh flowers.
*If you do decide to keep the butterfly for a few days you will need to feed it on the second day of it's emergence. Fresh flowers would be perfect.... or you could give it a sponge soaked in a 20% honey/water. A substitute for that solution would be Juicy Juice. :-) You could also give them fresh fruit: watermelons, cantaloupes, honeydews.

I got all of this great information from a site called Monarch Watch
I'll update you as my caterpillar gets closer to becoming a butterfly!! Here's a few pictures of our guest in his new home:

Update 9/12/2011
Well, our little caterpillar decided not to make it today. Only one day after it's time in it's new home. I read up on it....and it turns out this is a very commonplace occurance. The larva are super susceptible to illnesses. All you can do is make sure they have fresh milkweed, don't handle them much at all, clean out all the little caterpillar poops every day, and just wait and see.

So, we went back to the field and found 2 more caterpillars to try with (along with another batch of fresh milkweed). Here are the new buddies:
I found a small one and a large one in the hopes that a little variety would give us more luck. :-)
While we were out there, we saw quite a few monarchs zipping around:

 And, some that were ready to begin their journey south:
In two months, these Monarchs will probably have made it to Mexico. They store fat in the stomachs to help them have enough energy for the long journey. There was once a monarch tagged that had traveled 265 miles in one day!!!!
 If you want to help the Monarchs.....consider planting milkweed (there are tons of varieties which you can find at a local greenhouse) and making a "Waystation" for them. It a place to help them stop and rest up, breed, and move on. Lots of milkweed and lots of flowers make for perfect stop.

Update 9/16/2011

One caterpillar is starting a Cocoon!!

And, no, I'm not referring to.....

and this movie....
Though, I kinda wish I was....I would totally watch that movie again. Those alien-cocoon-revitalized- old-people are so cute. Pretty darn sassy too. Plus, I have a soft spot for Steve Guttenberg. He was hot stuff in the Eighties. :-) 

No....I'm talking about a caterpillar cocoon. Take a look at our big guy in his "J" position with his silken thread  attached. He is going to shed his skin one last time and then form his Chrysalis. 
Pretty cool to watch!!

UPDATE 9/29/2011
Our little fellow has been in his cocoon for a week and a few days and is showing signs of being ready to come  on out soon. Monarchs will usually hatch from their cocoon in the morning. I am expecting this butterfly to make it's appearance.

UPDATE 10/4/2011
Well, guess who made an appearance in the vase? Mr. Butterfly arrived even sooner than I expected!! 

So we waited until the weather was just right and let him go out in our flower garden. At first he wasn't ready to leave:
I used one of the sticks and coerced him to step onto it, then I gently pulled it out and brought it to a flower. He stepped onto it.
And, within moments he had made a friend....
He stayed for about two seconds....and then caught a fast breeze and zipped away!! I didn't even get a chance to take a picture of him on the fly. He made up his mind and just did it....well, I suppose it IS a long way to Mexico from Maine. :-) 

It's so magical to imagine a such a change happened in this little cocoon:
I suppose that might be what some of us are trying for when we get all wrapped up in a treatment at the spa....if a caterpillar can do it....

Thanks so much for following along as we went through the process of Raising a Monarch!! 

I am sharing this post at the following link parties:

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  1. This sounds like it would be such a fun thing to do. I'm not sure if milkweed grows in the southeastern US but I think I'm going to check around.

  2. What a beautiful project. I would have loved to have done this with my kids when they were younger! I am going to pass this onto my friend who runs the local Scout group!

  3. What a great and educational post! Our family brought in a caterpillar one fall when we were homeschooling. It was such fun watching it wrap up in its blanket and a little later burst out as a beautiful butterfly!

    I'm visiting from Show and Tell Friday.

    Sherry @ A Happy Valentine

  4. Such a cool post. Thanks for sharing.
    ~ ~Ahrisha~ ~

  5. How lovely to have a field of milkweed! None came up here possibly due to the drought.I had a bad year for cats here in NE OKlahoma. One large hatch of black swallowtails that I enclosed in a screen house that we built to fit over the parsley plants, were all eaten by a garden snake that crawled in at the bottom. Didn't figure it out until DH spotted him. We had them protected from wasps & birds & never thought of snakes. We had lots of BSTs, fritilleries, and a few monarchs on the zinnias. I Loved seeing your pictures & hearing of your success!!

  6. Oh I love those caterpillars. They are so colorful!
    Thank you for linking with Home Sweet Home!

  7. Quick do you easily clean out the poop in a vase like that? I want to use a vase like that for our newly-found caterpillar, but not sure how to clean it...

    1. It's actually really easy to clean out the poops in that kind of base....they just roll right out! :-) Just gently remove the caterpillar and then dump the vase upside down. They have really dry small little poops and they roll very easily. You can do a full cleaning once the butterfly comes out of it's cocoon. Just make sure that the neck of the vase is wide enough for the butterfly (with it's wings spread) to get out. Good luck!!!!


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