Raising Monarch Butterflies with Your Kids, Part 1

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

I get SO many questions about our butterflies. I'm working on a packet for homeschoolers learning about Monarchs, but, in the meantime, I'm posting this to get you started.

Let's start by establishing that I am NOT an expert. Not by a long shot! We just started this hobby in October. A friend of mine had pests in her garden and one ended up being a Monarch caterpillar. She was directed to a local Monarch enthusiast Facebook group, which I later joined. Let's call it the Butterfly Effect. Because of that one caterpillar, she is now raising them, I'm raising them, and at least three other mutual friends that I can think of are raising them. And now I'm passing the torch to you!

This is fun and they are beautiful, but this is also important work! Monarchs are at an 80% decline, which means they are headed for extinction. Find more info here.

Okay, first: you need milkweed!

Milkweed is essential for raising Monarchs. I can't stress how important it is that your milkweed stay pesticide-free. So, so important. Put your milkweed outside, either in pots or plant it in the ground. Female Monarchs will lay their eggs on the milkweed leaves. 
You will attract more Monarchs if you have nectar plants nearby. I have zinnias and dianthus near my milkweed, and on the other side of my yard I have bougainvillea that always has visitors. You can always ask at your local plant nursery, but often there will be signs or tags that say they attract butterflies/bees/hummingbirds. (Avoid Home Depot and Lowes. I love both, but not for my garden. You really want pesticide free, and you're more likely to get that at a small nursery.) Milkweed is a weed so it grows pretty easily from seeds. You can spread them over the ground or plant in mini greenhouse trays.

The eggs are usually on the underside of the leaves. They will be white until they are ready to hatch, then they will get dark. (Just like the chrysalises! They are light green and then turn black.)
When they first hatch they are teeny tiny. I look for holes in the leaves, and then flip the leaf to see if there's a little cat making the holes. 
Brand new teeny tiny baby monarch.
I remember how excited I was when we brought home our first milkweed plants. And then we waited... and waited... and waited. The only thing we saw crawling in our garden was a lizard. I joined a local monarch enthusiast group and someone needed to rehome their caterpillars because they were headed out of town. She knew that I had a little one watching and learning, and she prepared the most wonderful caterpillar tray for us. She also let me know that the cute lizard we kept seeing was likely eating the baby monarchs and eggs out of the garden. Oops.
I'm guessing on the caterpillar stages here.
They move up each time they molt.
If you get tired of waiting for Monarch eggs and you can't find someone local to give you some, check on the milkweed plants at the nursery. I bring home eggs and baby cats a lot. I get asked often about buying them online. There ARE live caterpillars on Amazon from Insect Lore that are popular, but they are not monarchs. I'm sure it's just as fun to raise them, but I have no clue what they eat. I did find this kit that looks promising, but it has no reviews. I also found this and this on Ebay.

Stay tuned for part two! This should get you started. Go plant some milkweed! If you feed them, they will come.

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