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Raising Monarch Butterflies at Home
While you can find Monarch butterflies all summer in the northeast, their caterpillars always tend to show up on milkweed from early August to late September. That means we’re just now heading into prime time.
While I was picking beans this afternoon, I stopped to look at our hefty milkweed patch near the garden. Sure enough, I spotted the first Monarch caterpillar of the year!
We’ve enjoyed raising monarchs for several years now. It’s extra fun for my younger cousins, who enjoy checking on the status of the caterpillars each day. Raising these little guys can be lots of fun even without kids, though! It’s nice to see creatures grow and change no matter your age.
If you’d like to start keeping some yourself, here’s how to safely raise Monarch caterpillars into butterflies!
What You’ll Need for Raising Monarch Butterflies
To get started, you’ll need to find a couple of items. A butterfly mesh cage or, if you’re looking for something more versatile, a plastic terrarium will hold your caterpillars nicely. You can also construct something out of what you already have – for example, an old fish tank can work.
If your enclosure doesn’t come with a top, you’ll need to get some very fine screen or shelf liner for covering. It’s important that they’re enclosed, have access to fresh air, and have a somewhat sturdy material on top that they can cocoon from.
You should also make sure you have a steady supply of milkweed. If you don’t have any naturally growing on your property, you can buy seeds and grow some in a pot.
Finding Your Monarch Caterpillars
You’ll find the caterpillars in the obvious spot – on milkweed! You will often find little ones nibbling away, or you might spot some tiny white eggs. Carefully collect the leaf your caterpillar (or eggs) is on and set it in the container.
You can keep a few caterpillars together, but keep the size of your container in mind. The caterpillars need plenty of room to grow.
While it’s best to nurture Monarchs already near you, if you can’t find any fresh caterpillars, you can get a Monarch butterfly kit.
Monarch Caterpillar Care
Once your caterpillars are snug in their home, you’ll need to keep it clean and provide plenty of milkweed. Keep their enclosure somewhere bright, but out of direct sunlight.
Give them fresh milkweed leaves each day, and get rid of any that have spoiled. Keep an eye on their supply, and if it looks like it’s getting low or going bad pick some more for them. They’ll need quite a bit as they get bigger.
To keep their living space clean, put newspaper or paper towels on the bottom of their container. Change it out each day or two so they don’t catch any illnesses from their droppings, and wipe the container of extra moisture as necessary.
The length of time they will be in caterpillar form varies, and it’s often affected by heat. A warm room will encourage faster development. They go through five growth stages, or instars, before forming a chrysalis.
Once they’ve eaten enough, they’ll head up to the top of their enclosure and form a beautiful green chrysalis, sealed with what looks like gold thread. They stay in their chrysalis for 10-14 days on average.
Try not to disturb the chrysalis during this time. Excessive movement can make them fall.
Once the chrysalis turns black and you see little orange spots inside, they are ready to come out. You can expect them to emerge in the next 48 hours.
Once it leaves the chrysalis, your newly-winged friend will need to dry off! This can take quite a while, so be patient. Two to four hours is average, but it can vary.
In the meantime, it will hang upside down, occasionally walk around, and open and close its wings. If you have a large mesh enclosure, it can stay in there, but if you’ve got a plastic terrarium, it doesn’t hurt to take the cover off and let it dry outside. Once it’s ready, it will fly away!
Start Raising Monarch Butterflies Today!
By following these steps, you too can successfully raise monarch butterflies in your home. Enjoy the beautiful transformation!