Updated: Aug 10
The monarch butterfly is probably the insect with the most highly evolved migration pattern. Some monarch butterflies travel from Eastern North America to Mexico. Other monarch butterflies travel from Western North America to California. Monarch butterflies need our help as their population has been declining. One way to help is to plant native milkweed. Milkweed is known as the monarch's host plant, and it is the only plant monarch caterpillars will eat. Without milkweed plants, the monarch population will not survive.
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Backyard Butterfly Garden
After our visit to the largest butterfly park in the world, Florida's Butterfly World, I decided I wanted my kids to observe the butterfly life cycle at home. I proceeded by ordering the Butterfly Garden Kit from Insect Lore. The kit will include a voucher that entitles you to an order of free caterpillars from Insect Lore (just pay for shipping).
While we waited for our painted lady caterpillars to arrive, we decided to put together a planter filled with butterfly attracting plants. I did some research and discovered that some butterfly favorites include milkweed, lavender, and dill. We drove to the HomeDepot garden center and got our plants and materials. Home Depot had just brought in tons of beautiful spring plants and we were fortunate enough to score a milkweed plant.
Upon arriving home, one of my boys discovered that our newly acquired milkweed plant had 5 monarch caterpillars on it! We quickly found out that one little milkweed plant was not enough for 5 caterpillars, so we returned to Home Depot and purchased another milkweed plant making sure this one did not have caterpillars on it.
After our caterpillars from Insect Lore arrived, we had five painted lady caterpillars and five monarch caterpillars. Taking care of the painted ladies, from Insect Lore, was extremely easy. They just crawled around eating the food that was already inside the cup.
A little more than a week later they attached themselves onto the lid to form chrysalis. Afterwards, we carefully moved the lid with the chrysalis and placed it inside the little pop up tent that came in the Butterfly kit.
Caring for the monarch caterpillars was a little more complicated. For starters, they were outside in our yard and not safe in a little cup like the painted lady butterflies. We learned that monarchs only eat fresh milkweed leaves. For this reason they were left on the host plant. Monarch caterpillars usually crawl away from the host plant to form a chrysalis. Only two caterpillars formed chrysalis near the milkweed plant.
When the chrysalis were hard enough, I transferred them to the pop up enclosure where we had the painted lady butterflies. Ten to fourteen days later our butterflies emerged almost simultaneously. We waited 24 hours before we released the butterflies.
Once our milkweed plant grew leaves again (about two weeks later), monarch butterflies stopped by to lay their eggs, and the butterfly life cycle began all over again! This time we were able to track the life cycle from day one.
I purchased a bigger pop-up tent to fit one of my potted milkweed plants. That way I could protect the monarch caterpillars from tachinid flies and other predators. Additionally, it let me control how many caterpillars had access to that plant in particular, and ensuring more surviving monarch caterpillars. Once the caterpillars formed the chrysalis, I removed the plant. Another benefit of the tent is that it had enough space to fit more monarch butterflies while making sure they had enough space to dry out and stretch out their wings.
Monarch Butterfly Timeline
It takes on average about four days for a monarch egg to hatch.
A monarch caterpillar will form a chrysalis in about seven to fourteen days. Until then, it will spend its days eating milkweed and growing. When it is ready to form chrysalis it will hang in a "j" shape.
A monarch will remain in the chrysalis for about eight to fifteen days.
The butterfly will be ready to emerge when the chrysalis is translucent. Keep a close eye on it so you don't miss the moment when the monarch emerges from its chrysalis.
A monarch butterfly is ready for its first short flight after 90-120 minutes.
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