Facts and Tips about Raising Monarchs
“But what if they die?” protested my daughter when I told her that we needed to stop looking for monarch caterpillars so that I could go home and start supper. Maybe I shouldn’t have told her that raising monarch caterpillars increases their chance of survival into butterflies.
We’ve been looking all summer for monarch eggs or caterpillars, but it hasn’t been until recently that we started finding them. Monarchs visit each state at varying times during their migration so you have to choose the right time of year for your state.
Why should we invest time in raising monarchs?
Raising monarch butterflies is a rewarding and educational activity you can do with your children. The monarch chrysalis is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful objects in nature. The transformation is also amazing to watch. Having the caterpillars right in your home where you can watch each stage is sure to leave a lasting impression.
The monarch population is dwindling and raising the caterpillars is encouraged to help more of them reach adulthood. By raising monarchs, it teaches our children to care for the world around them. I think even something as simple as raising monarchs can encourage empathy in our children.
For an example, my daughter was carrying a monarch egg on the way back from the monarch patch and it fell off the leaf. A few days later she asked me what was going to happen when the egg hatches and there is no milkweed around for the caterpillar. I could see the concern on her face for the almost microscopic insect. (Okay, maybe too much empathy can be a bad thing.)
Monarchs are one of the best examples in nature of the new birth in Christ. We are all born sinners and it’s only through a transformation that we can be made new creatures. This would be a great illustration to your children that even children born to Christian parents need to be transformed by Christ.
Did you know the following about monarchs?
Monarch caterpillars are called instars and go through five stages, molting between each one as their skin grows too tight. They increase in mass by 2,000 times over 9-14 days.
Monarchs go through several life cycles per summer. The butterflies usually only live for 2 to 6 weeks, except the last generation, which can live for 8 to 9 months. This generation migrates to Mexico and overwinters there, before returning to the states next summer.
How to Find Monarch Caterpillars
Look underneath milkweed leaves for the caterpillars. We’ve found them most often on leaves that have holes in the middle of the leaf. We’ve also found them on leaves with no holes. The first instar caterpillars are very tiny so look carefully. You might also find monarch eggs.
Another way to find eggs is by watching monarch butterflies. If you see a monarch landing on a milkweed plant it most likely laid an egg on the leaf. Once you’ve located the egg, carefully detach the leaf and take it home. It’s exciting when the egg actually hatches. The egg usually hatches in 4 days and they will turn almost black before they hatch. The newly hatched caterpillars will be very small. I thought ours had disappeared until I noticed tiny holes in the milkweed leaf it was on.
Tips for Raising Monarch Caterpillars
You can buy special net enclosures for the caterpillars, but we keep them in jars with netting on the top. Feed them fresh milkweed every day and clean the frass (yes, that’s actually a word for insect droppings) out of the jar. You may wish to wrap the ends of the milkweed in wet tissue and foil to keep them from drying out.
What to Expect when Raising Monarchs
- It takes 4 days for the eggs to hatch.
- Each instar lasts 1-3 days. They’ll shed their skin between instars. Here is a guide about monarch caterpillar instars. We enjoyed trying to figure out which instar caterpillar we had found.
- They usually crawl off the milkweed to molt so if you notice this, you might want to watch closely to watch the molting.
- The caterpillars will also crawl off the milkweed when they are ready to form a chrysalis. They will hang upside down, usually from the top of their cage, in a “J” shape. After around 18 hours, they will form the chrysalis.
- The chrysalis is revealed when they shed their skin a final time. It is not something that is spun around the caterpillar like a cocoon. It happens quickly so you need to be alert if you want to see it.
More Information on Raising Monarch Butterflies
- How to Raise Monarch Butterflies (book)
- Caterpillar to Chrysalis (short video)
- Monarch Butterfly Metamorphasis (short video)
- Life Cycle and Migration Sheets
Note: You can also order butterfly kits online. The kit linked is for painted ladies, not monarchs. You can order monarch caterpillars from Monarch Watch, but you will need fresh milkweed to raise them. If you have fresh milkweed you should be able to find monarchs on it, but this may not always be the case.
Monarch Books we Love
Winged Wonders: Solving the Monarch Migration Mystery by Meeg Pincus (illustrated by Yas Imamura) is a beautiful book about how the migration of the monarchs was discovered and all the people who helped out along the way.
Butterflies Belong Here by Deborah Hopkinson (illustrated by Meilo So) tells the life cycle of the Monarch (and its dependence on milkweed) through the story of a young girl that moves to a new school. At first, she feels small and insignificant, but as she leads her class and neighborhood in taking steps to bring back the Monarchs her confidence grows.