Raising Monarch Butterflies and a chrysalis

Mount Dora, FL(Zone 9a)

I have lived in Florida 23+ years and never knew we had Monarch butterflies. I have a prolific butterfly visiting a milkweed plant I recently purchased (4/13) and began seeing caterpillars. So off to our local butterfly nursery for netting, more milkweed plants, and a couple books. I now have almost all stages of the Monarch Butterfly I'd love to share with you. I'll do my best to keep posting updates.

Butterfly
Egg laying
Yellow eggs
Caterpillar
Chrysalis (created 07/02/13, due to emerge around 7/14 to 7/16)



This message was edited Jul 6, 2013 4:26 PM

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Central, AL(Zone 7b)

How wonderful that you're creating a habitat for these lovely butterflies Irish710. Thank you for sharing your butterfly gardening hobby with me and others. Glad to see you already have a chrysalis. I'm looking forward to new update.

Colima, Mexico(Zone 11)

Very nice Irish! Have you ever seen one leave the chrysalis? Here in zone 10b, they generally leave on the 9th day after creating the chrysalis. Might be 11 or 12 days in your zone. Anyway, you can tell when the Monarch is about ready to emerge because the chrysalis becomes transparent and you can see the wing pattern. They seem to prefer (that is if they are raised outside) to wait for the sun to hit the garden, but sun or no out they will come. Oddly enough, in my garden, at any time of the year they start to emerge at 9:30 am. The chrysalis will first appear black so don't be alarmed and then you will notice some patterns of the butterfly still inside the chrysalis. When they emerge the abdomen will be very large and the wings tiny and crumpled up so they need to hang with wings down for awhile (time depending on the temperature generally) until they are ready to fly. Their survival depends on how well they are able to hang on until the wings become strong enough to fly. Maybe you know all these things and have seen eclosures before, but for people who haven't, the process of eclosure can be a little alarming at times. I've watched it happen hundreds of time and i still hold my breath. It is awesome!

Lutz, FL(Zone 9b)

I agree, I've seen it happen so many times and it still fascinates me! Good for you Irish for helping out the Monarch population! We have Monarchs pretty much year round in Florida so you can enjoy them all the time. Just keep that milkweed growing.

Melanie

Greensboro, NC(Zone 7b)

Please update and let us know how you're doing! :)

Carlsbad, CA(Zone 10b)

Just found our first Monarch that hatched from milkweed in the yard! What a pretty sight to watch it flitter around! I used to do this at school each year for my students but never got around to planting for them in our yard.

I have 12 milkweed plants, 4 were planted two months ago, 8 are still in the pots, so none of them are mature with lots of foliage. Eight of the 12 are stripped of leaves, seed pods, and flowers, and there are at least two dozen caterpillars on the four with leaves. Luckily a friend has has lots of milkweed and few caterpillars so will take some of them, but I'm afraid I'm going to run out again.

So, I have a question. When I ran out of milkweed two weeks ago and had yet to get the eight new plants, two smallish caterpillars seemed to form chrysalises early - they are smaller than any I've seen. With the rest that reach a certain size do the same if I run out again, or do they just die? I can go get more milkweed tomorrow, but I really don't need 12 plants of the same type, although at least they're a mix or yellow and orange flowers.

On Friday I bought a dozen nectar plants; Marigolds, Cosmos, Santa Barbara Daisy and Salvia, and I'm looking for Sweet Joe Pye Weed Eutrochium purpureum, and Cone Flower, hopefully Dwarf Purple Coneflower - Echinacea purpurea. I'm also getting two more milkweed - Swan Plant Milkweed, Tennis Ball Bush, Gomphocarpus fruticosus: http://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/go/37912/ next week, so hopefully I'll be more ready next year.

I'm having such fun with this new adventure, just hope I can keep enough food around.

Greensboro, NC(Zone 7b)

If your friend has lots of mw I would take some leaves and store them in TH fridge as you do salad greens. I haven't had th experience but if the cat is not physically ready I think it would just wander around looking for food untill...?

Put up a post on your local Freecycle (?) To inquire about MW.

Post on DG in you regions forum to see if you can find a lose source.

Once the plants are stripped they will regrow. Please let us know how it goes. I have about 20 tropical MW plants extra.in my driveway. I wasn't taking any chances this year with the numbers being so low I thought if I had more MW they might lay more eggs!

Arroyo Grande, CA(Zone 9a)

Anniesfollies,
I put in lots of milkweed this year and haven't had a single caterpillar. I have six asclepias physocarpus plants (over 5 feet tall) in addition to a dozen asclepias curassavica. If you need leaves I can send you physocarpus, I question whether they are going to make it to seed before Fall. If you would like curassavice seeds I'm swimming in them. They are quite easy to get to germinate. Let me know if you get low on food and I'lll send you box of leaves.
Dee

Carlsbad, CA(Zone 10b)

Dee I wish we lived closer! I would love to share some of my caterpillars and eggs with you so you can enjoy them, too. Do your Asclepias physocarpa lose all their leaves in winter? Also, I'll PM you tomorrow morning about an idea.

Amanda, how do you store milkweed in the fridge? It has wilted quickly when I put stems in water, but yesterday I found a site that describes how to keep it fresher. It said to cut off a branch and wash the cut end in warm water until the latex stops flowing, cut a bit more off and again wash, and then quickly put it in water. That keeps the whatever (?) open so water can be absorbed. We did that an hour ago and it seems to be making a difference already.

About 12 caterpillars have developed into chrysalis, which my husband is enjoying attaching to chopsticks and sharing with our neighbors so they can watch the butterflies emerge. Even the adults are excited and several have said they'd like to plant milkweed so they can do this next year. He loves to tell stories and told them they are called Monarch because of the gold strip, and they all believed him!

But there are 2 or 3 dozen of all sizes still eating, and multiple eggs yet to hatch. Today I bought one largish A. curassavica, and two of the A. fruticosa (Gomphocarpus fruticosus) in 4" pots but 18" tall. I thought they were A. physocarpa, but the seed balls are much bigger. (Need to research these two.) Unfortunately I'm sure these won't be enough and I'm wondering about smashing the eggs that haven't hatched because I've already spent over $100 just in milkweed. Frustrating because I want to give them all a chance as I've read that only 3-4% make it anyway. I will email my friend with lots of milkweed tonight hoping the butterflies didn't swarm her yard as they did mine.

But I did get some more fun nectar plants; more cosmos, six beautiful orange and yellow Gaillardia and three orange and purple Echinacea, both which are supposed to bloom year round here. I also looked into host plants for other local butterflies and hope to get those soon. Now to figure out a planting arrangement and get them in the ground. I'm even thinking of having my husband cut away a couple of feet of the concrete driveway so I have more sunny places.

Sorry to chatter on so much, but I'm having such fun. Can't wait until next spring and summer!
Annie

Arroyo Grande, CA(Zone 9a)

This is my first year growing physocarpa. I have to admit they don't impress me. The flowers are small and the plants look like oleander. I plan on trying some different varieties next year. I have lots of curassavica growing and they are nice plants with pretty flowers. Since the deer don't bother milkweed I can put in some of the larger types outside of my fenced area next year. I even have some native milkweed that grows in our meadow.
If you can come up with an idea of how I could get some of these leaves to you for use let me know.
Dee

Carlsbad, CA(Zone 10b)

Well I'm loving providing for the Monarchs and other butterflies am am really looking forward to next spring when all the nectar and host plants are planted and mature. However, right now I'm getting really stressed and frustrated.

Many butterflies have emerged and flown away and it is so wonderful to see. I was able to give my friend over 20 caterpillars and thought that would get me through. But I still have 20 or more hungry caterpillars who have almost stripped the new plants. This makes 19 milkweed plants, 15 of which aren't even planted yet, and I will need more food later today. My wallet is getting thinner and thinner.

Many of them look plenty big enough to go into their chrysalis but they just keep eating! Is their any way to trigger the large ones? I will go buy 2 or 3 more plants today and then have to call it quits. Hopefully when the the plants leaf back out I can sell a few to neighbors who want to start butterfly gardening. Does this happen every year? It is feeling like a sad way to end such a wonderful uplifting project.
Annie

Colima, Mexico(Zone 11)

How ever many Asclepias you have available will be used. The Monarchs will lay eggs on the very young plants with maybe only 4 true leaves. The problem is that the Monarchs don't seem to know how long it takes a plant to grow back and they keep laying :). Now, I see how the plants are doing and if they will support another generation, i see how many caterpillars (about) and in what stages and make a mind calculation regarding how much the existing caterpillars will need to eat before they come to pupation. If i see that i have supported as many caterpillars as the plants can accommodate, then each evening, i'll start squishing eggs...i know it sounds brutal, but not as brutal as having 30 starving to death caterpillars. I now have a neighbor who has asclepias (lots of it) on his ranch not far from the house and before i start squishing i check with him about the condition of his plants (he feeds lots of caterpillars too). If he has many good plants, i will give him some caterpillars to take out to the ranch. In the past i counted how many days from egg to chrysalis. Then counted how many days it takes for a plant to become full and ready to support more caterpillars. I can't remember the numbers. I suppose they are written somewhere. But i do remember that the butterfly cycle is quicker than the plant growing back cycle. So at some point, there is going to be a problem unless you have a Plan B (i.e. squishing eggs, using the plants of neighbors, keep some plants growing in the house in case of emergency, etc.). I will also cut a plant back when it is nearly exhausted so there isn't anything left for them to put more eggs on. As a result, i generally have several different plants at different levels of maturity.

Central, AL(Zone 7b)

Great news on my corner of the garden. Tonight just as sundown, I discovered my first Monarch's larva; must be newly hatched! Followed with 8 others. Yes! Everywhere I looked there were predatory critters laden the A. curassavica (Mexican MW), such as spider and such. So I adopted those little ones and they're my very first ones for the season.

They're too small, slightly the size of a little piece of thread at this time. I'll post follow-up photos as they grow a tad bigger.

I missed seeing the butterflies when they were here. But undoubtedly they've visited! ^_^

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Greensboro, NC(Zone 7b)

About storing leaves, I rinse it, wrap in paper towels and put in an airtight container. Like I would any salad greens. Can't say how long yours would last, just a suggestion.

About A. physocarpus. The foliage is for TH bugs. Th flowers are not impressive, but it's really the seed pods that will grab you. They really are interesting and stay on the plant very long. I'm sold on them. Had some volunteers I was counting on, but the MW beetles have really taken their toll.

Still no sign here.

Central, AL(Zone 7b)

The best way of waking up in the morning with this future monarch sighting.

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Greensboro, NC(Zone 7b)

Thank you for that. Are you going to raise this lovely cat?

Central, AL(Zone 7b)

Yes, currently I've roughly 2 dozens of those little ones in 2 separate cages with plenty of MW for them to munch on.

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Central, AL(Zone 7b)

Good news bad news! Bad news is, I discovered that the indoor low humidity (due to air condition) was causing damaging effects on my monarch cats. The good news is 1/3 of them are thriving outdoor once I released them over 24 hours ago. I'm turning those lovely over to mother nature and hoping for the best. Since I could not provide them a safe environment to thrive in. *sniff sniff.

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Greensboro, NC(Zone 7b)

Well that's too bad. Don't you think you could keep them in containers outdoors?

Central, AL(Zone 7b)

That's a good thought Amanda, but I found it's not feasible. The chances of container being blown away by wind, retain excess heat as temp. fluctuates outdoor.

Greensboro, NC(Zone 7b)

I have rigged my containers in the shade with big rocks inside and tied down in all sorts of ways. I've yet to truly feel "prepared" although I swore I would be ready this year. I had everything ready but now find this late in the season most of my bug boxes and netted containers are housing other butterflies!

Have to be up to speed quick. Eggs will hatch in 3-5 days.

Hope there will be more. Over the weekend I made the mistake (?!) Of taking ten of my extra MW plants to install at a library garden I used to tend across town. It has fallen Into a sad state with no one tending and so I am reclaiming it in a way. I hope the monarchs find those plants over there too. I will go and inspect my work tomorrow and make sure they all have plenty of water. Even though the season here is dwindling, if we don't have an early frost the plants could grow and bloom through November. I will know where to go if I need more MW and make sure I collect those seeds!

Arroyo Grande, CA(Zone 9a)

I was thinking maybe a screen house would be the way to go. I could even build something with a rigid 2x4 frame that could be moved around. Maybe screen panels that could be bolted together and taken apart to move so it wouldn't be too heavy. They sell tent butterfly enclosures but I think I'd rather put the money into something sturdier. Something the wind would have a hard time lifting.
Then I could even move the structure over the plants, or grow some plants in the structure.

Greensboro, NC(Zone 7b)

I saw something recently just lime that, Dee. On pinterest, FB, one of those. It was literally a frame of 2x4s, looked like a gazebo. Fairly large too. Room for whole plants, etc.

Central, AL(Zone 7b)

That's a great idea Dee. I will have to accept the fact that I am not ready to be of much help this year. Next year? There will be hope. For awareness helps organize thoughts, thought move to actions, actions then yield result in the future? As of this morning. I found several more 2nd and 3rd instars that didn't make it for whatever ailed them. The good news is though; I've 3 healthy looking 5ths instars that are munching on MW and staying hidden from plan view away from potential predators.

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annapolis, MD(Zone 7b)

I'm currently in the situation of more cats than milkweed and totally new to butterfly fostering.

In reading thru lots of info out there I came across this post on a rotational sysyem for milkweed production and cat protection ona thread titled "Desperately Seeking Milkweed" on this Texas Butterfly Ranch site
http://texasbutterflyranch.com/2012/04/12/desperately-seeking-milkweed-voracious-appetites-of-monarch-butterfly-caterpillars-create-milkweed-emergency/


"We grow Milkweed from seeds as much as possible. We have some large Milkweed planted in our flowerbeds, but once we find cats on them, we move them to potted Milkweed for them to eat, leaving the flowerbed Milkweed intact for the butterflies to lay more eggs and feed on the nectar. We rotate plants in and out of our screened patio, giving them a chance to grow as many leaves as possible before we move the cats to them to feed on. I have made several large screened cages to put the pots of Milkweed under, to protect the cats and newly emerged butterflies from predators. Our “system” of rotating the plants has been working so far. We’re seeing more and more butterflies, and constantly having to grow more Milkweed. It’s been tough keeping up with the demand, and a lot of work, although it’s been enjoyable and rewarding “work”.

Central, AL(Zone 7b)

Bravo! coleup you're doing a great job! I'll have to study more on those links at a later time. Thank you for sharing your success with fellow butterfly-garden enthusiasts. Keep up the good work. Thanks again.

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annapolis, MD(Zone 7b)

Oh, Lily, success is not mine to claim as that report on plant rotation is from another person and from last year! I just thought it was interesting to transfer baby cats to smaller mw plants and enclose them leaving the larger plants in the garden.

I do hope to see and assist as necessary or possible the 18 5th instar cats I pass each afternoon on my paper route. May transfer some cats to a friend's milkweed patch or get fresh leaves from her to feeds these beauties. They were all there yesterday but may already have crawled off to pupate by the time I get there today.

Also am very cautious about buying milkweed plants locally if I find some as they may have been treated by the grower with systemics/insecticides and my good deed will kill them.

If several have 'disappeared' this afternoon I will collect the others and leaves or stem cuttings and attempt to feed them well for the several days to chrysalis time.

Greensboro, NC(Zone 7b)

It really is rewarding, though nerve wracking too! :)

I'll check those links, but that's the plan I had this year as I have about 15 potted plants in my driveway and 30+ plants in my garden in the ground, both annual/tender perennial and perennials.

Still, only collected those five eggs. I am praying over them. :D

Arroyo Grande, CA(Zone 9a)

I am definately going to plant a large patch of different milkweeds in the pasture next year. I will probably make a couple cages too. This is the first year I can remember that I didn't have at least a few monarch cats in the garden. You'd think with all the milkweed I have this year I'd have dozens. But I'm not giving up, it's easy enough to plant the milkweed, the deer don't eat it.

Greensboro, NC(Zone 7b)

I read somewhere recently that a monarch lays only one egg on each plant. Some years there were dozens on a single large swamp milkweed for instance, but I did only find one per plant from this week's visits. Hope there will be some that I missed.

annapolis, MD(Zone 7b)

Wanted to update you all.
On Wed afternoon when I arrived to site on my paper route, my customer was waiting to talk to me. She had cut down the tropical mw and transfered the cats she could find to her yard down the hill and to some common mw plants. I told her that I had transferred 4 smaller ones to her across the street neighbors plants and informed him of same. He was thrilled to learn that the 7' giant plants in his wild area were indeed milkweed and told me about the swallowtails on his parsley. While the lady and I were talking and seeing if the relocated cats were ok, another neighbor with three kids came by so we showed them the cats and milkweed . They seemed to know about the Monarchs and said they wanted to grow mw and nectar plants next year, too. Of course, I suggested that their whole little peninsula on the Bay could become a haven for Monarchs and I would be happy to try and grow out some of the tropical and other seeds I have been collecting!

When I returned after finishing my route I collected 6 of the remaining roadside cats and some leaves such as they were and brought them home where I have a large container where I have been feeding Black Swallowtail cats most of whom have now pupated which is a whole other topic as several of them are not well attached.

Yesterday I found a tand of really good looking mw and gathered a supply of leaves and some fresh tender ones for the little cats still out on the route. There were no signs of eggs or any munching on that stand so I guess I wasn't robbing peter to pay Paul. There were some aphids and mw beetles however.

Checked on cats when I returned home and gave fresh leaves to eat. One cat however just was not happy and kept crawling and crawling, looking for something so I put that one in a tupperware container with fresh leaves and rubberbanded a paper towel over the top. I am happy to report that it is forming a chrysilis even as I write this! I'll do the same for the others when I return this evening.

Now I search for nectar rich areas for release! I have quite a few nectar plants in my yard but I also have teenage feral cats who can jump 6 feet and love bugs!

Again any help and encouragement appreciated and double gratitude for getting me and them safe thus far.

Greensboro, NC(Zone 7b)

You're doing great!!! :)

Quite a bit of work for just a bunch of bugs. Good to separate any that look like they're not well. Of the eggs I gathered this week one darkened and I thought it was going to hatch. Closer inspection made it look a little fuzzy (?!) and showed a dark spot near the egg which may have been some germ or something on the leaf. I separated that one and now just keeping fingers crossed on the remaining four.

Sounds like you've found some backup Milkweed - when you collect plants from elsewhere - use your best judgment to make sure it's not been treated with anything that might be harmful to your cats. I always rinse leaves that I put in the fridge. You can run them thru a salad spinner to get the water off. I like to put them between layers of paper towels in a sealed tupperware. Seem to keep a good while. If you have a method that works for you for other greens then you know what I mean.

Let us know how it goes! I'm very proud of you! :D

annapolis, MD(Zone 7b)

Three chrysalises so far! They are much more beautiful than any photo could capture. Wow!

What are their favorite nectar plants in your gardens this time of year?

I've got sedum, coneflower. Hardy Ageratum, Abelia. Joe Pye Weed and lots of golden rod down the road. Oh, and one butterfly bush that should be back in flower soon

Greensboro, NC(Zone 7b)

Not surprisingly, in my garden they like the tropical milkweed and the Mexican sunflower (Tithonia) best.

Zinnias and blue mistflower next favored.

Keep us posted!

Arroyo Grande, CA(Zone 9a)

Just wanted to let everyone know I finally got a couple of monarch cats! They are on the Asclepias curassavica. It would be nice if some would appear on the physocarpa, it's such a huge plant, I don't think I'll grow them again next year if I don't see some butterfly interest in them. The little birds sure seem to like them . . . they like all the aphids they attract.

Greensboro, NC(Zone 7b)

Dee - I didn't find any cats on those either, but when it came down to feeding the cats ate those with every bit of enthusiasm as the A. curassavica.

The plant is from South Africa, so perhaps our North American Monarchs are not familiar with it. I did enjoy the dried seed heads as they gave some fun texture to the garden that I had never seen.

I had several volunteers but the Milkweed beetles got to them early so they haven't amounted to much. Like you, I thought it was a lot of plant for the space. I didn't start any this spring because of the volunteers , but I would definitely grow at least one just to let it have a place in the jungle back there.

Congrats on the cats and good luck! We have rain today - very gray from the storm which is passing to the west. Hopefully it won't do much damage to my taller plants as I didn't get to stake as much as I'd like to prepare for the wind. Gusts only up to 20 mph, but that can still do a lot of damage. Crossing my fingers.

Arroyo Grande, CA(Zone 9a)

Amanda,
The physocarpa may get used after all. I spotted 9 more cats out in my flower garden today. The milkweeds in there were self sows and I hadn't been checking them. I may be moving cats down to the butterfly garden and the physocarpa. 9 cats is a lot for two curassavica plants even though they are 2nd year plants. We lost power for 9 hours yesterday and when we called the power company they said it was because of the "storm". You would have laughed at what these "Californians" wanted to pass off as a storm. We didn't even get enough water to water the plants, it dried up in a couple of hours. The wind, well it must have gone around our house. I hate to admit it but we are real weather wimps out here. And if it's going to be called a "storm" it should at least water the plants for 24 hours.

annapolis, MD(Zone 7b)

Update. All nine cats formed chrysalises. The first three to do so eclosed on Wed and Thursday and are ready for release.

We have heavy rain last two days through today so am looking for any release suggestions. Temps around 60 daytime. No sun until tomorrow..

The three, 2 males and a female are currently in one of those pop-up hampers with a small aster plant and sprigs of various blooms for nectaring and a piece of watermelon. The males in particular seem 'uninterested' in nectaring.

Should I release them today or keep them til tomorrow when weather will be more favorable?

Greensboro, NC(Zone 7b)

O heck. I hate when this happens. I would wait for a break in the rain if you can and let 'em fly. I held one for a day or two and then it had great difficulty when it tried that first take off. :/

Greensboro, NC(Zone 7b)

Unless of course it's the middle of the night.

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