A Rewarding Journey
The most important issue:
You MUST have milkweed available in order to raise monarchs. If you don’t have your own supply or source to get milkweed to feed your caterpillars, you should not raise. Before egg hunting, go to our teacher resource page where you will find examples of different raising cages. There are many places online where you can find cages, but if you are waiting for your purchase to arrive at your doorstep or don’t have time to make a house at home, just grab a jar. You can also find insect cages at Walmart or your local pet store. Also make sure you go to our monarch fact page too before starting to raise so you know the life cycle and some other exciting facts!
So you found an egg?
Congratulations! A great way to keep your milkweed nice and fresh while you wait for your monarch to hatch is to wet a paper towel and place the milkweed leaf with the egg side facing up on top of the paper towel. At this time, you can place the milkweed leaf in a small plastic container for the beginning stages of the life cycle. You need to open the container every day for ventilation. Remember the newly born caterpillar is very small. You can keep the tiny caterpillar in this container for a few days. Milkweed leaves can go bad quickly, so check on the milkweed everyday to see if the monarch needs to be transferred to another milkweed leaf. As the caterpillar grows (and it grows fast!), you will need to provide larger sources of milkweed.
Typical order of events when getting new food to feed your caterpillars
- Find milkweed in ditches or garden
- Put milkweed in bucket to take home. Put water in bucket and rinse/clean milkweed of any predators. You’ll be surprised how spiders or other bugs can be hiding.
- Take out old milkweed and caterpillars and place in a safe container so caterpillars don’t escape.
- Wipe out/clean caterpillar cage. Wipe off any condensation since monarchs can easily drown in water, even with just a few drops depending how small the caterpillar is.
- Either put new milkweed on top of a newly moistened paper towel or if caterpillars are big enough, place milkweed in floral tubes making sure milkweed stem is submerged in water. Put milkweed in cage. There are different ways to do this. Just remember, monarchs can easily drown, so the container your milkweed is going in needs to have a hole just big enough for the stem.
- Now you can put your caterpillar on the new fresh milkweed you provided for it! Be very careful when handling caterpillars. They can get squished easily. If the caterpillar is small, you can cut around the caterpillar and place the little part of milkweed its on onto the fresh milkweed and remove the old milkweed later.
- ALERT! Caterpillars go to the bathroom A LOT! Even if your milkweed is still fresh and doesn’t need changed, you must clean your cage from frass (caterpillar poop).
- Caterpillar not moving? That’s ok! Remember, caterpillars shed their skin a lot, so if it isn’t moving, leave it be. It’s going to molt soon, and if you move the caterpillar you could kill it.
The chrysalis fell down.
If the chrysalis is still viable, you do have some options! It’s time to play doctor. If the top of the chrysalis has its silk still, you can roll it up between your fingers and tie 3 knots. Then you can tie it to a stick and place the stick on the top of your cage. Another method, especially if raising multiple monarchs, is to carefully peel the silk off the top of your cage and put the chrysalis in a cage with other chrysalises. You don’t want butterflies emerging and dripping their fluid on top of live caterpillars. You would take scotch tape and fold the tape over the silk, and then pin the tape to the top of the cage. Look at pictures below for examples.
Some common problems
The tachinid fly can be a problem for monarchs. The fly will lay its eggs which then penetrate the caterpillar’s body once the fly larva comes out of its egg. You know this happened when you see a white string hanging from a caterpillar or you could see the larva. Is your monarch black and appears sunken in? This is typically a sign of black death which is a virus. There are other parasites and predators that you can learn about by going to these links:
Just keep in mind- you can do everything right, and raising can still go wrong. Keep your cages cleaned, and make sure the milkweed you are using is from a good source where no chemicals have been used. Do your best, but don’t stop trying if the first round of raising goes bad!
Wait, I thought you said the chrysalis goes to the top of the cage?
Sometimes, monarchs don’t make sense on where they want to make their change. In this scenario, I cut an area of the milkweed that the chrysalis is attached to and then tie it or hot glue it onto a stick.