Raising Monarchs

This has been a banner year for Monarchs in West-Central Indiana. After reports of diminished populations due to poor overwintering conditions in Mexico, the populations have rebounded and Monarch caterpillars can be found on most milkweed plants and much of the bindweed. An interesting project is keeping a Monarch as a pet to watch its extraordinary development.

The caterpillars grow very rapidly and consume a lot of food. If you decide to rear a caterpillar, you will need a source of fresh milkweed leaves. There are a few other plants that can serve as hosts, but milkweed is a certain host that is common, easily recognized and available. The top of a milkweed plant can be clipped and placed in a tall vase with a narrow opening. This will keep the leaves well hydrated. Hydration is important because the caterpillars must get all their water from the leaves. Caterpillars do not drink. Foliage should be checked for the presence of predators.

The caterpillars can be placed on the milkweed and more or less take care of themselves. Once they reach full size, they will curl into a C-shape and form a chrysalis, the pupa stage of the monarch. Monarch will sometimes attach to the top of a container and it is best to leave them in place. As the butterfly develops, you can observe some of the changes because the chrysalis is partly transparent. The wings forming inside the chrysalis will begin to take on their characteristic color shortly before the butterfly is ready to emerge. When the adult emerges, it splits the chrysalis open. The wings are moist and folded and must be extended. The butterfly pumps fluid through its wing veins to extend the wings with the help of gravity. It is important for the butterfly to rest vertically with its wings hanging down to get the full extension. A sturdy stick or stem will provide the monarch with the necessary perch.

Once the the butterfly wings are fully expanded, it is ready to fly away. Release it outside during the daylight and it will fly off in the direction of Mexico.

Top Left to Bottom Right: Milkweed, Young caterpillar, Caterpillar pre-molt, Early chrysalis, Chrysalis splits for emergence, Adult Monarch.

About jjneal

Jonathan Neal is a retired Associate Professor of Entomology at Purdue University and author of the textbook, Living With Insects (2010). This blog is a forum to communicate about the intersection of insects with people and policy. This is a personal blog. The opinions and materials posted here are those of the author and are in no way connected with those of my employer.
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10 Responses to Raising Monarchs

  1. scheky says:

    Monarchs are the perfect first pet for children. They require minimal care while providing daily entertainment. In addition to the instructions above, be sure to put the vase with the milk weed and larvae over a tray or paper to collect the droppings.

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  3. Eunwon Kim says:

    I’ve had a lot of pets in my lifetime, but I must say that raising monarch butterflies was one of the best. Since the pet project started, I raised 7 monarch caterpillars. It’s really a great pet to have! I go out for a walk and look under milkweed plants and there they are! Before the project started, I didn’t even know what a monarch butterfly was and could not tell grass from milkweed. This project has really opened my eyes to the ecosystem and insects.
    My very first monarch caterpillar that I reared from the park died because the plant that I thought was milkweed apparently was not milkweed. The second I got from the class was more successful, I learned of the milkweed characteristics and replaced the leaves with fresh ones every two days. It’s entertaining to just sit and watch the caterpillars eat away at the leaves! Couple things to make sure is to keep the milkweed hydrated, if exposed to dry air and hot temperatures; the milkweed shrivels up and the caterpillar will dehydrate and die.
    Overall, monarch caterpillars and butterflies are a great species and it was a totally fun experience to raise them.

  4. Sikai Cheng says:

    I have raised many kinds of insects when I was a small child but raising a monarch this time gives me a lot of surprises and new knowledge. I found that the caterpillar of monarch is the most beautiful caterpillar I have ever seen and the monarch butterfly itself is the largest butterfly I have seen in my life.
    When I was raising my monarch, I tried my best to give it the best environment. I searched in the campus for milkweed and I was always paying attention to the temperature in the room. My caterpillar ate a lot and grew very fast. And it was a great thing for me to observe it. When the butterfly initially appeared in the pupa, I was really excited. And when the butterfly finally emerged, I felt I have achieved a great thing and I have seen one of the most wonderful things in the world. Like the author says in the article, it is really a wonder that a caterpillar changes to a beautiful butterfly.
    From the article, I also know that raising monarchs is very important for the protection of the monarch. So I think that we need to raise and observe the procession of metamorphosis carefully to know more about the specie and try our best to protect this kind of beautiful insect.

  5. a-lister says:

    Raising caterpillars has been a fun and exciting learning experience. I began my monarch butterfly rearing about a month ago, and this pet has been much different than any other pet I have had. The day that I received my caterpillar, I had to go gather milkweed for it to be able eat. I was not sure what milkweed looked like so I had to do a little research to be able to find it out of many plants in the field. Once I found a few plants, I noticed a very familiar sight. I discovered a second monarch caterpillar on the underside of one of the leaves! As the days went by, it was very rewarding to be able to see such large changes in it’s appearance. The pupa state was a very exciting stage to experience, although I was very anxious. While my first caterpillar was unable to emerge properly from the pupa and spread it’s wings, I am excitedly awaiting the emergence of my second monarch.

  6. Amie says:

    About 2 weeks ago, my monarch caterpillar pet emerged. When I received the caterpillar it was already quite large and formed it’s chrysalis four days later. The entire experience was very rewarding.

    I was lucky enough to be present when my butterfly finally emerged 10 after it formed it’s chrysalis. I had noticed the night before that the chrysalis had become transparent and I could see the orange and black of the wings. The next morning I heard a crinkling noise coming from its container and when I went over to look at it, a butterfly was clinging to the translucent chrysalis. I was able to watch the butterfly for about half an hour as it slowly opened and closed its wings. When I came back that afternoon, the butterfly seemed ready to be released, so I picked it up, took it outside and watched it fly around my yard and then land on a tree.

  7. I would have to say that raising a monarch is definitely worth while. Before the pet project began, I questioned myself on whether or not I should chose to raise a pet at all, let alone a caterpillar; since it’s more fragile. I really didn’t want to have it’s life in my responsibility. At one point, when the caterpillar had received more food and placed in a bigger jar with the top sealed, it seemed as though the caterpillar had died, unresponsive to my touch. But once I placed it in a larger cup, about 10 minutes later, I witnessed it start to move around again. Now that weeks have passed and I’ve seen the caterpillar grow from a tiny green caterpillar, to a larger one and now it appears as if it’s in it’s chrysalis stage! It’s surprising me at how fast this creature is growing. I still haven’t feed the caterpillar milkweed yet, but maybe once I get past my first experience I’ll feed it more food that I find in nature.
    In conclusion, if you’re reading this and still want to raise a monarch caterpillar, take my word for it & do so. This has been a gratifying experience.

  8. Pingback: Friday Cat-erpillar Blogging: Caterpillar Insults | Living With Insects Blog

  9. Anonymous says:

    When I was younger, I tried to get caterpillars when I planted a milkweed plant. I was so sad because no caterpillars showed up. Know that I have a caterpillar for the pet project, I can’t wait to watch it grow and develop. I find it so interesting and butterflies are just beautiful.

  10. I think everything published made a bunch of sense. However, consier this, what if you were to create a kiiller headline?
    I ain’t suggesting your content isn’t good, but
    what if you added a post title to possibly get a
    person’s attention? I mean Raising Monarch | Living With Insects Blog is kinda boring.
    You ought to peek at Yahoo’s home pasge andd watch how they create article headkines to grab peeople to open
    the links. You might add a related video orr a related picture orr two to
    get people excited about everything’ve written.
    Juust my opinion, it wluld make your posts a
    little bit more interesting.

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