Monarch caterpillars

Monarch caterpillar

Hatching monarch caterpillars is a tradition in my family and a year hasn’t gone by since we haven’t talked about seeing a monarch caterpillar or discussed how many chrysalis we have hatched. Once I moved to the Hudson Valley I was a little worried that the monarch butterflies didn’t exist here. The first couple of years I enjoyed the monarch caterpillars when I went home to visit, one year I even brought a few caterpillars back with me, but now I have my own caterpillars in my garden! I am not sure how the milkweed made it to my garden, but I now have a small little patch where the monarch butterflies lay their eggs each season.

Milkweed is one of the plants where monarch butterflies lay their eggs and where caterpillars can commonly be found. Milkweed, asclepias syriaca, is a herbaceous plant species also known as Common Milkweed, Butterfly flower, Silkweed, Silky Swallow-wort, and Virginia Silkweed. It can be found in sunny locations, along the road and in open fields.

Milkweed

Milkweed

If you want to enjoy watching a monarch caterpillar turn into a butterfly it is easy and fun for kids and even adults. First you will need to find a home for your caterpillars, I use a quart size canning jar (you can use a larger one if you like). You will also need a lid, I use some Syrian wrap with holes poked in it and the canning jar band or a rubber band to hold it in place.

Canning jar with an egg inside.

After you have prepared your jar, then you want to go hunting for either an egg or a caterpillar. Monarch caterpillars can be found around this time of year (August into September), depending on your area. Go to an area where there are a lot of tall green milkweed, avoid the dark dried milkweed and any that are too short, it may have been mowed down at some point not giving the monarch butterflies enough time to lay eggs.

When you are looking in the milkweed patch, there are a few clues that will help you locate a monarch caterpillar. First off, look for any leaves that may have been eaten and second, but gross, look for black round poop on the tops of the leaves. The caterpillars usually hang out on the bottom of the leaves, so if you see these two signs check underneath.

Monarch caterpillar hanging out.

Up-close view

Finding an egg is a little more difficult. These are also found underneath the leaves and are a yellowish cone shape. Once you identify an egg you will be a whiz at it!

Can you identify the egg?

How about now? (Side view of Monarch butterfly egg)

Monarch butterfly egg

Once you have located your caterpillar or egg carefully put it in your jar. You are also going to need a few leaves for the caterpillar to eat, inspect each leaf before you pull it to be sure there are no more caterpillars or eggs and place the leaves in the jar. The white liquid that comes off the milkweed, sap, is very sticky so try to avoid it.

Now you can go home with your caterpillar or egg. Place the jar in a safe place out of reach of distractions. You will want to continoulsy replenish with fresh leaves and clean the jar every so often of moldy leaves and poop. If the caterpillar doesn’t have fresh leaves it will force itself into a crysalis and will most likely hatch deformed or die.

After several weeks your caterpillar will get bigger and bigger and eat a lot! When the caterpillar is fully grown it will find a secure place to pupate, usually the top of the jar or the side. Sometimes I even place a stick inside to give them a more secure place. The caterpillar with create a silk-like mat and will hang in a J shape from its back legs. A day later the caterpillar should metamorphosis into a green chrysalis (pupa stage).

Chrysalis

Again be sure to keep your chrysalis in a safe area where it doesn’t get shaken or rattled to much. About 9 to 14 days later the chrysalis will change to a black clear color and suddenly the butterfly will emerge! The butterfly will take some time drying its wings before it can fly away. Once the monarch butterflies wings are dried take the jar outside and carefully stick your finger into the jar or use a stick and remove the butterfly, avoid touching the wings! If the butterfly has spots on either side of the bottom part of its wings than the butterfly is a male, if there are NO spots than it is a female. Place the butterfly in your garden near some blooming flowers if possible. The butterfly will most likely hang out for a little while until it flies away.

Monarch butterfly hatched

Monarch butterfly.

Monarch butterfly flying away.

Well did you have fun? I know I do every year and I would love to hear about your caterpillar and butterfly adventures. Send in your questions, comments to farmhousemag(at)gmail(dot)com.

Facts:

As monarch caterpillars grow bigger they shed their skin five times. The fifth time, metamorphosis, is when the caterpillar turns into a beautiful green chrysalis.

Monarch butterflies migrate south, your butterfly will not return the following year, but their children or grandchildren will.

A Monarch butterfly’s total life span is 6 to 8 weeks.

Monarch butterflies have been seen flying at 11 thousand feet above sea level. This way the butterfly can take advantage of the winds.

Here it is!!

Links:

http://www.monarch-butterfly.com/

http://www.monarchbutterflyusa.com/Cycle.htm

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Comments
8 Responses to “Monarch caterpillars”
  1. vintagejenta says:

    This is SO COOL! I learned a lot of cool stuff. It’s like keeping a pet, except you only get to keep it for a little while.

    Great post!

  2. Dottie Anderson says:

    I also love to hatch Monarchs and this has been a “banner year” for them in Nebraska though they were a little late in coming. Currently I have 8 caterpillars, 14 in chrysalis and have had 5 hatch. I love to share this hobby with others and have given caterpillars (and milkweed leaves) to several teachers and co-workers to share with children. Watching the butterflies emerge from the chrysalis never fails to astound those fortunate enought to watch it happen. I like to cover the tops of my jars and containers with pieces of an old sheer curtain or fine nylon net or tulle. This seems to give the butterflies something to grasp as they start moving around before flying. When I know the butterfly will soon emerge I remove that covering from the container and clip it with a clothespin to a rack or shelf where I can closely watch them hatch.

  3. Wow, what a great piece! Like you said, this activity could captivate adults as well as kids. Lovely!

  4. PJ says:

    Thank you for this, we have been hunting for several seasons in milkweed fields this time of year and finally found a caterpiller today on a hike. You post with life cycle photos helped bring home our son’s learning from the classroom, kind of our own experiental learning.

  5. Beverly Weaver says:

    Did not have one on our milkweed this year in Or. Hardly any butterflies?

  6. Hardly any butterflies & no caterpillars on milkweed in Or. this year?

    • Irma Elaine says:

      Yes, sadly I did not see any caterpillars this year and I only saw 2 butterflies. This article was created last year. I think the butterflies are being affected similarly to the bees, by fungicides and pesticides. I do hope next year will be a better year!! Thank you for your comments Beverly.

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  1. […] Monarch caterpillars « FarmHouse – Hatching monarch caterpillars is a tradition in my family and a year hasn’t gone by since we haven’t talked about seeing a monarch caterpillar or discussed how many chrysalis we have hatched. Once I moved to the Hudson … […]



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