Monthly Archives: July 2013

Newly hatched Monarch


Raising Monarch Butterflies

Monarch instar feeding on milkweed soon after hatching

Monarch instar feed­ing on milk­weed soon after hatch­ing

Monarch instar feeding on flowering milkweed

Monarch instar feed­ing on flow­er­ing milk­weed

Monarch butterfly about to emerge from chrysalis

Monarch but­ter­fly about to emerge from chrysalis

Newly emerged male monarch butterfly

New­ly emerged male monarch but­ter­fly

Ready to go!

Ready to go!

I’ve had the priv­i­lege this month of car­ing for Monarch but­ter­flies on their 4‑stage jour­ney of life: from a tiny egg… through the dif­fer­ent stages of lar­vae… into pupa­tion (or chrysalis)… and emerg­ing as a gor­geous Monarch but­ter­fly. I feel like a proud (fos­ter) par­ent. As of this post, we have had 4 Mon­archs emerge (all males so far) and sev­er­al more are on their way. This has been a fas­ci­nat­ing project and I’ve learned so much about these won­der­ful crea­tures and their amaz­ing trans­for­ma­tions.

There are four gen­er­a­tions of Monarch but­ter­flies. The first three gen­er­a­tions live a few short weeks to emerge, eat, find a mate, lay eggs and die. The last gen­er­a­tion live up to 8 months, through the win­ter, by migrat­ing to warm places like Cal­i­for­nia and Mex­i­co. There they stay until spring, when they make their way back to repro­duce. Some Mon­archs trav­el great dis­tances (up to about 3,000 miles from Cana­da to Mex­i­co) in these flut­ter­ing bod­ies that aren’t at all aero­dy­nam­i­cal­ly designed. It’s an amaz­ing thing. They trav­el across vast areas of ocean and desert (and back again), and some­how they instinc­tive­ly make it to their des­ti­na­tion.

The female Monarch lays her eggs on milk­weed plants. Once hatched, the lar­vae will eat the egg and start in on the milk­weed, which pro­vides all the nur­ish­ment they need until they are ready to go into pupa­tion.

I have shown some of the stages of meta­mor­phoses (to the left). These are the instars that I was for­tu­nate to watch and care for. We know that all things change… that’s part of life. But with these lit­tle crea­tures, it’s like trans­for­ma­tion on speed dial.

Most of these pho­tos were tak­en out­side. How­ev­er, most of the time I had them indoors where I could keep an eye on them and not let a pos­si­ble preda­tor or some curi­ous crea­ture inter­rupt their life cycle.

They tend to be a lit­tle messy, as they eat and poop a lot, but fash­ion­ing some news­pa­per around the pot of milk­weed kept it more man­age­able. Plus some of the instars decid­ed to go into pupa­tion on the under­side of the news­pa­per. After the first ones, I helped them on to an orchid plant that was next to the milk­weed, and most of them seemed to be hap­py to find a spot under a leaf to spend their time in the chrysalis stage.

Here’s a video about the migra­tion of the Monarch but­ter­fly from as far away as Cana­da to a lit­tle town in Mex­i­co, well worth a view: NOVA The Incred­i­ble Jour­ney of the But­ter­flies

If you’d like to learn more about these fas­ci­nat­ing and beau­ti­ful crea­tures, here are a few links with a lot more infor­ma­tion. You may even decide to take on this project your­self!