Friday, August 20, 2010

Are You Ready For Fall 2010 Migration?

Believe it or not, around this time the Monarch Butterflies in Canada are getting ready to start their fall migration.  They will start to leave Canada around September 1st.  They travel, on average, about 50 miles a day.  It takes them about two months to reach their overwintering sites in the mountains of Central Mexico.  So, Monarchs maybe coming through your area in the near future.

So far this year, I've raised and released 63 Monarchs, bringing my total raised to 2,063.  My goal this fall is to raise and release 100 Monarchs.  Currently, I have 16 chrysalises in my outdoor pavillion.  It's a good start.  The challenge will be to get them to mate as soon as possible so we can get the next generation here.  All my butterflies will be tagged with migration tags, in cooperation with the outreach program at the University of Kansas program called Monarch Watch.  Migration tags can be purchased at the Monarch Watch website:  The tags are affixed to the right wing of the butterfy in a specific location, and does not harm or inhibit the butterfly's flight whatsoever.  Who knows, maybe some of my tagged butterflies will make it to the migration site this year and be recovered next spring by the scientists in Mexico.  We'll see.

Interestingly, almost all of my current 16 caterpillars made their chrysalises on the underside of the Milkweed plant leaves.  It looks like a butterfly bush for real.  See the photos below.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

39 and Counting

Hello Fellow Monarch Enthusiasts,

I just wanted to give you a brief update.  Daily, the Monarchs from Wave 3 are emerging, and we are promptly releasing them every evening.  My two year old daughter Laura Ann enjoyed releasing them, and my nine year old son does too.  Yesterday, we released one mail that emerged.  Today, four more emerged - 3 females and one male!  I am so happy to see some more females.  We have had so many males this season.

This evening, we released the four Monarchs, and the kids really enjoyed this.  My little girl waves bye and gives each one a farewell greeting.

Additionallly, I noticed 3 more Queen caterpillars on my outdoor Milkweed plants.  Since they don't eat nearly as much as the Monarchs do, they are no real threat to my Milkweed plants, and I do not bother them.  Hopefully, no predators will get them.

I am hoping to have a good number of Monarchs to release this fall.  Timing is everything.  I sure hope that some of my tagged Monarchs will make it to Mexico and be found by the researchers next Spring.  How very exciting that would be.

So, our total releases to date is 39!  We only have one left from the 3rd wave to emerge.  Then, wave 4 will begin.

Happy Monarching!

Caleb & Janae Warren

Friday, July 16, 2010

Miracle Monarch Makes It!

A few days ago, I reported on an extremely small caterpillar that, while in the J Shape, fell from its perch.  Amazingly, it pupated while laying on its side.  It's rare to see this since a fall usually results in the caterpillar bursting open and dying.  However, this one did not.

Well, yesterday, the little tiny butterfly emerged, and I'm happy to report that the little female is doing fine.  We released her last night along with four of her brothers and sisters.  Today, two more healthy males emerged, and we released them this evening.

(Very small female Monarch the successfully emerged after having pupated while laying on her side!)

Thus far, we have released a total of 34 Monarchs this year.  Six or seven more are still left in this 3rd wave.  We anxiously await to see how they do.

I went ahead and ordered migration tags for my fall batch of Monarchs this year.  I decided to get 100 of them.  We'll see if I can raise that many this fall.  The tags are afixed to the right wing in a specific location.  If they make it to Mexico, they might be caught and their tag information retreaved.  This info is all housed in a main database at the University of Kansas.  Tagging Monarchs is a fun exercise with your children or students and does not harm the butterflies in any way.  For more information or to order your tags, visit

Happy Monarching!

Caleb & Janae Warren

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Miracle Monarch Pupation

Here's an interesting story for you.  One of my recent caterpillars in the 3rd Wave was about to pupate.  He was in the J Shape.  For some reason, he fell from his silk pad.  There was no way for me to reattach him.  So, I simply laid him in a tuperware bowl to see what would heppen.  My 9 year old son and I had a lively discussion about the possibilities.  I told him it was possible for the caterpillar to successfully pupate even though it's on its side.  Well, to our great surprise and wonderment, that's exactly what happened.  The caterpillar successfully shed his 4th instar skin while lying on his side!  I've only seen this happen one other time when I was raising Monarchs in Georgia.

(Monarch caterpillar pupates while lying on its side!)

One unexpected side effect of this is that his chrysalis stuck to the side of the tuperware bowl.  So, I simply stood up the bowl.  We'll see if the butterfly emerges properly or not.

So, this batch of Monarchs has some interesting butterflies in it.  It will be interesting to see if all 14 chrysalises make it.  We'll keep you posted.

Happy Monarching!!!

Caleb & Janae Warren

Pupation - A Critical Time For Monarch Caterpillars

Well, all of the caterpillars from Wave 3 are now in chrysalises.  We currently have 14.  One, however, had difficulty shedding its skin entirely when it pupated.  I waited 24 hours and then I removed it manually.  However, the skin had covered up the cremaster and upper tip of the chrysalis.  This area was weak, soggy and wanted to pull away entirely from the chrysalis.  I carefully removed the skin, tied a piece of thread around the cremaster, and hung it on a nail in our mud room.  I am very uncertain if it will make it or not.  However, I have seen worsely formed chrysalises come out as unscathed beautiful adult Monarchs.  So, we will wait and see.  One lesson from this is the importance of the caterpillar fully shedding the skin when it pupates.  It's a critical time for them.  If they don't, it prevents them from forming properly inside the chrysalis.

(Chrysalis with soft top. This is due to not fully shedding the 4th instar skin at time of pupation. The chrysalis may not properly form due to this.)

As for Wave 4, well they're coming on with a vengence.  They are in the outdoor pavillion, and they are almost ready to pupate now!  Literally overnight, about half of the Milkweed plants have been virtually denuded of leaves!  These guys sure can eat.  I have no idea how many are in there.  I won't have a full count for a while yet.  However, many of them are in instar 4 already!  One thing that I have learned from this is that they mature much faster outdoors than indoors.

Happy Monarching!

Caleb & Janae Warren

Monday, July 5, 2010

Here Comes Caterpillar Wave #3

Well, we are past the bad weather now, and everything is starting to dry off.  I noticed my Blue Vine Milkweed is doing well.  My sidecluster Milkweed plants have bloomed and are attempting to set seed.

One thing I've noticed about Blue Vine Milkweed is that the leaves tend to last longer than those of the Tropical Milkweed plant.  In other words, they do not shrivel quickly after they have been removed from the plant.  That is a real plus when you need to feed the caterpillars apart from a live plant.

This weekend, I released the last three butterflies from batch #2.  So, we started with 50+ caterpillars and ended up raising and releasing 20 adults.  Our total for this year is 27, and our all time grand total is 2,027.

Many of our caterpillars were killed by fire ants.  I am now attempting to poison them and remove them from the area.  Also, the installation of a water mote system around my pavillion has discouraged insects from getting on the pavillion.  Don't forget to put 1-2 capfuls of bleach to further discourage insects and to prevent mosquitos from breeding there.

Of course, we also had numerous caterpillars die due to predatory flies.  When we buy plants from the nursery, most of the caterpillars on them are infected this way.  It's very sad to see them die this way.  So, to have 20 make it to adulthood is not so bad.  In fact, it's a way higher average than would naturally occur in the wild.

So, being totally out of butterflies, I went to the nursery and bought one plant this weekend.  We gathered up a number of caterpillars and put them on the plant.  Interestingly, since we brought it home, we have already had a dozen or more caterpillars die.  Most died no doubt due to bacteria infection.  The shrivled up and turned black.

(Our caterpillar tree.  Numerous cats from the nursery.)

Even though there are so many ways for Monarchs to die, if you get a good pair and are careful to keep things clean, you can normally have a good percentage of success.

Right before I let my last female go, she mated and layed numerous eggs on the Milkweed plants in my outdoor pavillion.  Hopefully, many of them will make it.  I will keep you posted.

Happy Monarching!

Caleb & Janae Warren

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Wet, Wet, Wet!

With Hurricane Alex threatening to hit this area, it's been quite busy the last 24 hours.  I went ahead and released the three female Queen butterflies yesterday.  Even though we've had some rainfall in the last 24 hours, I'm sure they found shelter and are safe and sound.

I have two male Monarchs and one female left.  I'm hoping they will mate soon and she will lay a few more eggs for me.  I have them in a small pavillion with a Milkweed plant.  The presence of the plant encourages them to mate.

It now appears we will not get a direct hit from Hurricane Alex but will merely get some rain and a little wind.  I sure am enjoying the break from the severe heat.  It has been quite rough the last month or so. 

(It seems Hurricane Alex will not hit us directly.  Whew!)

Our new eggs have yet to hatch.  We're watching them closely and will keep you posted.

Happy Monarching!

Caleb & Janae Warren

Monday, June 28, 2010

Two Queens Emerge!

Well, we have some exciting news today.  First off, our first Queen butterfly emerged from its chrysalis which was hanging in our Mud Room.  Being a female, it's truly a queen.  Additionally, our last of two Monarch chrysalises emerged today- also a female.  So, we'll have the possibility of getting some more eggs soon if all goes well.

(Queen chrysalis - it greatly resembles a Monarch's, but is smaller)

(Our new female Queen butterfly)

We have had so few females this season.  My wife Janae wonders if temperature has anything to do with the male/female ratio?  That's good question.  I'll have to do some research and see what I find.  Irregardless, female Monarchs have been few and far between.  I'm very excited to have one at the moment.

Our Corpus Christi area was put under a hurricane watch today.  I've just got my pavillion set up the way I want it, but I may have to dismantle everything in a few days.  We'll keep you updated.  We may have to evacuate some butterflies with us.  That may be a first eh?

Happy Monarching!

Caleb & Janae Warren

Saturday, June 26, 2010

New Monarch Butterfly Has Difficulty Flying

This morning the last two remaining Monarch butterflies in our outdoor pavillion emerged.  They were both males.  We certaining have had plenty of males this season.  I decided to release them both.  One was obviously healthy and strong and took to the skies immediately.  However, the other one appeared weak, and his wings didn't look fully inflated.  They had a slight wavy look to them  I have seen this before.  No doubt what happened was that shortly after he emerged from his chrysalis, he must have fell from his perch.  If you remember, we have had two other Monarchs that fell in this manner, and their wings were so deformed that they couldn't fly.  Fortunately, this butterfly was able to crawl back up to a perched position to finish filling out his wings.  However, the time it took him to do so did affect his wings, so they did not fully inflate and have this slight wavy look to them.  He also appeared weak, so I brought him inside and placed him in my smaller indoor pavillion.  I checked his wings, and they are not stuck together.  Sometimes, that can happen, preventing them from flying.  Tomorrow morning, I will give him some sugar water to strengthen him.  Hopefully, I can release him tomorrow.

(Monarch butterfly with slightly wavy wings, though you can't see it in this picture's angle.  He's having difficulty flying. No doubt his wings were slightly deformed due to an interruption during the drying process.)

We have three Monarchs left to emerge from this second batch.  One of them is hanging from a nail in our Mud Room.  (see photo below.)  Additionally, we have three Queen butterflies that we are looking forward to seeing emerge from their chrysalises.  This will be a first for all of us.

(Monarch chrysalis in our Mud Room. Note the wings are showing through now. It will emerge tomorrow morning.)

There are several eggs on our Milkweed plants that one of our females laid.  So, batch three will be up and running in a few days.  My current operation is much smaller that what I used to do in Georgia, but we are having fun with it.

I first began raising Monarchs in spring 2005.  In a span of three years, I raised 2000 Monarch butterflies.  Then, due to health problems, I was unable to raise any for the next two years.  Man did I miss it.  This Spring, I started again, and as of today, we have successfully raised 17 butterflies so far this year.  Thus, my grand total is currently 2017 Monarch butterflies and counting.  Please feel free to write my with your success stories in raising Monarchs.  I'd love to hear from you.

Happy Monarching!

Caleb & Janae Warren

Friday, June 25, 2010

One Is Fertile & The Other One Just Thinks She Is

Well, there is lots of news to share today.  First, two more Monarchs emerged today in the outdoor pavillion.  One was successful, but sadly, the other fell from its perch before its wings could fully dry.  I fear he was accidentally knocked off by one of the other adult Monarchs in the pavillion.  That is always a cause for concern when you have a large number of butterflies and chrysalises in the pavillion at the same time.  I plan to purchase two additional small pavillions in the near future so that I'll have room to bring in my adult butterflies if I need to.

Yesterday, I reported that one of our females was mating with a male, but I wasn't sure if he fully fertilized her eggs because they were interrupted before they could fully connect.  Well, interestingly, that female today is busily flying around in the pavillion from Milkweed plant to plant attempting to lay eggs.  However, nothing is deposited.  It seems she thinks she's fertilized, but she's not.  I've never seen this behavior before.  It's very interesting.  However, our other female Monarch has successfully mated and is laying eggs on our Milkweed plants right now! 

It doesn't seem like it will be a problem having enough Milkweed this time, especially since we have found an abundance of it in our yard.  So, for the first time, we are fully ready for this next batch of babies.  Perhaps the 3rd time will be the charm, and we will have a high success rate. 

Finally, while I love birds, I don't try to encourage them to hang out in our yard.  The reason is simple; most birds eat butterflies.  While it is true that most birds avoid eating Monarchs because they are poisonous and will give the bird a horrible stomach ache, the birds are not born with this knowledge.  So, for them to learn this life lesson, they must consume at least one Monarch.  That's a lot of Monarchs lost just so a bird can learn a lesson.  Therefore, I normally don't set my yard up especially for them.  I don't discourage them from visiting, but I don't encourage them either.  However, the Hummingbird is an exception.  It only feeds on nectar, and it doesn't hunt butterflies.  The two coexist very peacefully.  So, I do put out nectar feeders for the hummingbirds.

Today, I had to replenish their supply.  To my surprise, the same ants that had earlier killed so many of my caterpillars were literally covering the hummingbird feeder so it couldn't feed.  We temporarily corrected the problem with a little hot water, but I know they will be back.  Hopefully, I can find their nest and do away with them.  One encouraging note though is that since I have installed my mote around my outdoor pavillion, and put bleach in the mote, I have had no further problems with ants or any other insects getting into the pavillion.

(Hummingbird feeders in my backyard. I like hummingbirds because they don't try to kill my butterflies.)

Happy Monarching!

Caleb & Janae Warren

Thursday, June 24, 2010

More baby Monarchs Soon To Come...Maybe.

Today has been once again an interesting day.  First, two new males emerged from their chrysalises this morning.  I went ahead and placed them in with the others, so there are now 5 Monarchs in the outdoor pavillion.  There are three males and two females.

After taking care of some morning errands, I came home to find that there had been an afternoon shower here.  What a welcomed relief.  We need the rain here so badly.  As I was looking in my outdoor pavillion, I noticed that I only saw three butterflies.  I knew that I had a total of five in there as of this morning, so my mind started to race, and I began to fear the worst.  However, to my great relief, I found the other two together on a Milkweed plant.  Yes, you guessed it, they were mating, or at least attempting to.

(Two Monarchs mating in my outdoor pavillion.)

I'm not entirely sure if the mating attempt was successful or not.  When I found them, I immediately ran and got my camera.  But by the time I returned, they had already separated.  This is unusual.  In my experience, mating pairs stay connected for 12-24 hours.  So, perhaps they got interrupted for one reason or another.  However, it certainly is a promising sign.  If they do successfully mate, then we should have a new batch of babies in about a week or so.

Happy Monarching!

Caleb & Janae Warren


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

One Triumph! One Tragedy.

Yesterday evening, I noticed two chrysalises were changing color.  They are located in the corridor between our back door and back entrance to our house.  This small area is called the "Mud Room" by my wife.  Well, this morning, I awoke to a triumph and a tragedy.  Two Male Monarchs had indeed emerged, but one had fallen from its perch.  The fall damaged its abdomen which contains the fluid for the wings.  It couldn't manage to crawl back up to its perch.  Its wings were deformed.  It would never fly.  Even if I had been standing right there, I'm not sure if I could have saved it, since its abdomen was damaged in the fall.

(Male Monarch fallen from its perch.)

This raises a question I hear often.  What should you do if you know a butterfly is injured beyond recovery?  Is there a humane way to help end its suffering?  The answer is yes.  The most humane way is to put it in a container with an enclosed lid and place it in the freezer.  The cold slowly and gently puts them to sleep.  If you see they are suffering, this is the most humane way to end their pain. 

Believe it or not, there are a lot of emotions that well up when you lose a butterfly this way.  This is especially so if you have hand reared them, provided them a lot of care, and helped them to get to this point.  And, then, when they are so close to being a successful adult flying Monarch butterfly, so see them die this way is heartbreaking.  However, we still have nearly a dozen Monarchs remaining to emerge from this batch, not to mention three Queen butterflies on the way.  And let's not forget, one male Monarch made it this morning!  So, withstanding this tragedy, we still have a lot of exciting things to look forward to.

(One Male Monarch made it!)

Happy Monarching,

Caleb & Janae Warren

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Two More Female Butterflies Emerge Today

Well, yesterday, we decided to release the one female butterfly that had emerged.  Well, this morning we awoke to find two more females have emerged.  You might remember that our first batch of butterflies was mostly male.  So far, this batch is exactly the opposite--all girls so far. 

There is only one caterpillar left to pupate, so this batch is all but done.  My son Joshua found three other chrysalises that are starting so change color.  So, we'll have several butterflies within the next 24 hours if all goes well.,

If you are a teacher or educator in the Corpus Christi Texas area, and are interested in raising Monarchs with your class, feel free to contact me for further information and support.  I'm hoping many will help raise some for release this October for the fall migration.

Happy Monarching!

Caleb, Janae & Joshua Warren

(So far, this batch is all females...3 and counting.)

(Two new female Monarchs emerged today.)

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Congratulations Mr. & Mrs. Warren! It's a Girl!

Finally, we have our first emerged butterfly from the second batch, and it's a female Monarch!  So, right off the bat, we've equaled the number of females from the first batch.  Our current number of caterpillars/chrysalises left is 19.  Of those, 1 has emerged, 15 are in chrysalises, 2 are in J Shape, and 1 is still a caterpillar.  We are pleased with the success of this second batch.  However, we started this batch with 50+ caterpillars.  So to lose over half is disheartening.  Still, our average is way over the wild's.  It makes me wonder, with so many predators and dangers out there, how does the wild population produces 100 million butterflies that make it to Mexico each year?  With an average of less than 1 out of every 10 making it to adulthood, the wild must produce literally billions of Monarchs each year to have a successful migration.

(Our first female Monarch from our second batch.)
While inspecting our plants recently, we found three Queen butterflies.  They are from the same family as the Monarchs, and they even feed on Milkweed.  They are slightly smaller than Monarchs, and they don't migrate.  All three are now in J Shapes.  Even though we were running low on Milkweed, we decided to keep them.  We look forward to seeing them emerge.  You can see one of the Queen caterpillars hanging in the J Shape in the picture below.

(Queen caterpillar hanging in the J Shape. Note the extra set of antenae on its back.)
Our mote around the outside pavillion seems to be working well, although we see a fire ant or two every time we inspect it.  Hopefully, it will keep them away until our butterflies can emerge.  We plan to put a capful of bleach in each table leg bowl to further discourage the fire ants and to prevent misquitos from breeding in the water.

Oh, one last note, though it doesn't exactly relate to Monarching.  Yesterday, while at the health food store, I saw some Purple Ribbon Spanish Lavender plants for sale.  Well, I'm a huge fan of lavender, so I couldn't resist, even though Lavender doesn't tend to grow well here in South Texas.  However, I'll give it a try.  I'm not sure if the Monarchs will like the lavender blooms or not.  We will see.  Either way, I'll have a beautiful plant that smells good too for a while.

(My new Purple Ribbon Spanish Lavender Plant. Isn't it beautiful?

Happy Monarching!

Caleb & Janae Warren

Friday, June 18, 2010

Build a Mote Around Your Monarch Butterfly Castle

Dear Reader,

If you have been reading and keeping up with my Blog, you might be thinking, with so many predators, is it really feasable to raise Monarch butterflies?  Yes, it is.  You just have to learn what predators are out there and then devise a strategy to protect them.  That's largely what this Blog is dedicated to doing.  So, whether you are a teacher, parent, student or butterfly enthusiast, you will find helpful suggestions to help you avoid the problems that one can encounter when raising Monarch butterflies.

Today, as I stewed about how many caterpillars I had lost to fire ants, I decided to try a technique I had read about to try and protect them.  It involves building a water mote around your butterfly pavillion.  This is very helpful if your caterpillars are outdoors, because even in a pavillion, ants can crawl through the little holes and kill your Monarch cats.  Here's what you do:

1.  Get four extra large matching bowls and four flat faced stones.  (I used two bricks cut in half.)
2.  Place a stone in each bowl.
3.  Set your table legs on top of the stones.
4.  Fill the bowls with water.
5.  Make sure your table/pavillion is not in contact with anything except the stones it is setting on.

The water acts like a castle mote and prevents the fire ants from getting to the table legs and into your pavillion.  Please note, though, that this is not always a perfect fix.  Ants are very persistant.  In some cases, they have been known to plunge into the water and drown by the thousands until their dead bodies accumulated to the point where they made a bridge across the water, and the remaining living ants could cross over.  However, it is a good place to start. 

(Water Mote protecting your Monarch Butterfly pavillion from fire ants.)

Lastly, you can spray some ant poison on the table legs or on the rocks in the bowls to add an additional deterent.  However, let me add that you must be very cautious in using any kind of poison or pesticide, since the Monarch butterflies are very susceptible to any such chemicals and will die quickly if they come into contact with them.  Also, make sure that no children, pets or other wild animals come into contact with such contaminants either.

Some folks chose to try and avoid the predators by raising the caterpillars totally indoors.  This is possible, but if you want to raise large numbers of Monarchs, you'll probably end up having to do much of it outdoors.  If that's the case, hopefully this Blog entry and others like it will help you protect your precious Monarchs.

Happy Monarching!

Caleb & Janae Warren

My Yard's Full of Milkweed!!!

Additional inspection of my yard has yeilded a number of Milkweed species!  I really can't believe it.  I must assume that the previous owner had a butterfly garden of some sort in her yard.  I couldn't be more thrilled.  Below are some photos of the Milkweed species that I have found in my yard.  All are native to Texas.

(Possibly Sand Milkweed plants by my watering hose.)

(Blue Vine Milkweed running along my garden fence.)

(This plant oozed Milky White when I pinched a leaf off.  Checking to see if the caterpillars will eat it or not.  That's the real test to see if a plant is truly Milkweed or not.)

With this much Milkweed in my yard, I can only surmise that the previous owner planted most, if not all of it.  If that's the case, I'm happy to continue her work.

As you read in my previous Blog entry, we lost a lot of caterpillars to Fireants today, and additional cats have been lost to predatory flies.  My Tropical Milkweed plants have been stripped of leaves.  I have one left that has a few descent leaves on it.  I brought it and the remaining few Monarch caterpillars indoors this afternoon.  I have 4 Monarch caterpillars left to mature into chrysalises.  I also have 3 Queen caterpillars I'm sharing my Milkweed with.  In addition to that, we have 12 chrysalises.  Hopefully, I can keep the predators at bay, and they will make it to adult butterflies.  In my next Blog entry, I'll show you a technique I employed today to protect them.  Please read on, as it may help you too.

Happy Monarching!

Caleb & Janae Warren

Heavy Losses Due To Fireants

Well, much has been happening in the last three days, but I didn't fully understand until today.  Fireants are terrible predators and kill many living creatures and insects.  I had noticed that an occasional caterpillar was on the bottom of the pavillion and that ants were feeding on it.  At first, the ants were sugar ants, and they were not harming the caterpillars at all.  They would simply get nectar from the Milkweed plants.  However, somehow the sugar ants dissipated, and without me noticing, small fireants took there place and began killing my caterpillars.  I didn't realize they were fireants until today.  The ants killed 10 caterpillars overnight.  I've lost close to 20 cats due to the ants alone.  This isn't counting the number that the predatory flies have killed.  I started this batch with over 50 cats.  If all goes well, I hope to get 16 butterflies out of it.  It is rough here in South Texas, but the lessons I'm learning now will help me better protect them in the future and have higher butterfly yeilds.

One last tragedy of the day occured when I was cleaning out my outdoor pavillion.  We live on the coast here in Corpus Christi, and it is always windy.  Well, a strong gust of wind came by and blew over my pavillion.  One of my chrysalises was ripped from its silk pad.  It's cremaster was torn lose, and the bottom of the chrysalis was slightly damaged too.  There was no saving it.

Well, enough bad news.  Check out my next Blog entry for some very exciting news!

Happy Monarching!

Caleb & Janae Warren

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Our Average Is Down a Bit

This A.M., I checked my outdoor pavillion and found the following.  Three caterpillars had attempted to pupate.  Two made it and one failed.  (Yes, Tachinid Fly strikes again.  See photo below.)  I've enclosed a photo so that you teachers, parents and students can see what the caterpillar looks like if its been infested with the fly larvae.  Additionally, I found two other smaller dead caterpillars.  One was in a pot, and the other was in the bottom of the pavillion.  I'm unsure what caused their demise.  Hopefully, it is not disease.  I quickly removed all dead caterpillars.

The two caterpillars that successfully pupated did so on the underside of Milkweed leaves.  The leaves look good and strong, so I will leave them for now.  If the leaves start to die or look like they will detach from the plant, I will relocate the chrysalises to another location.

Inside my house, I suddenly developed a problem with flies last night.  Some of them may be the predatory flies that are killing my babies, so I am desperately trying to get rid of all of them so I can bring my Milkweed plants inside and examine them.

Several other caterpillars are searching for a place to pupate.  I'll keep you updated on their progress.  (See photos below.)  Our current average is just below 50% success rate.  Hopefully, we can get that back up soon.

Happy Monarching,

Caleb & Janae Warren

Looking For Milkweed? Don't Forget To Look In Your Own Yard

Late in the afternoon, I checked my outdoor pavillion one last time.  I noticed that one of the caterpillars was dead on the dirt in the pot of its host plant.  As I picked it up and examined it, I noticed evidence that yes, once again, the Tachinid fly larvae had struck again.  I was feeling a bit blue, because a good number of my caterpillars were not making it to adulthood, yet a lot of my Milkweed was being consumed.

Before I continue with my story, let me give you a little background information.  My family and I just purchased a house this year.  It was built in 1955, and we did a little remodeling before we moved in.  The lady that previously owned it lived in it from the day it was built until the day she died.  The house and yard had been unkept for 1-2 years by the time we purchased it.  I'm still trying to get the grounds under control, and we're getting close.  I'm watching very close to see what plants come up this year.  That will give me some kind of idea as to what the previous owner did to beautify the yard, and I'll start to make some choices from there.  I'm sure our new dog will no doubt influence my decisions too.  In fact, she already has.  *smile*

Anyway, as I was walking through my yard, thinking about my normal shortage of Milkweed, I noticed a plant next to my garden hose.  I would have passed it by, but I noticed two Milkweed bugs on it.  Milkweed bugs are orange and black insects that feed exclusively on Milkweed plants.  (See photo below).  If you see them on a plant, you've no doubt just found a Milkweed plant.  Although they won't hurt your Monarch caterpillars, they do consume their host plant, and for that reason, they are in competition with the Monarchs.  For that reason, I did a double take.  All of a sudden, something popped into my brain.  If those are Milkweed bugs, they would only be on Milkweed plants.  Could it be that I have wild Milkweed plants growing on my recently purchased property?  Well, I told my wife there is one easy way to find out.  I pinched off one of the leaves of the mystery plant, and you guessed it, a white milky fluid leaked out!  It indeed appears to be Milkweed.  However, it is definitely not Tropical Milkweed, one of the most commonly known Milkweed species.  By its appearance, if I had to take a guess, I'd say it looks like Sand Milkweed.  It does have flower buds under its leaves, so hopefully it will be blooming soon.  At that point, I should know exactly which species of Milkweed it is. 

One thing is for sure, if you're running low on Milkweed, it never hurts to look around your local area, including your own back yard.  You might be surprised what you will find there.

(Unknown species of Milkweed growing wild in my back yard!)

(Leaf of the wild Milkweed plant growing in my back yard.)

(Wild Milkweed plant growing in my back yard with Milkweed bug on it.)

(Milkweed Bug)

A few more caterpillars are getting ready to pupate.  I'll see what we got in the morning and let you know.

Happy Monarching!

Caleb & Janae Warren

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Tachina or Tachinid Fly Strikes Again

As usual, I'll give you the good news first.  Another chrysalis formed early this morning, and 3 more caterpillars are ready to pupate.  In addition, 3 more are almosted finished eating and will be ready to pupate within the next 24 hours.

Next, the bad news.  A couple of days ago, one of our caterpillars made its chrysalis on one of our Milkweed flower pots.  Yesterday, I noticed that one spot on it was turning a slight brownish color.  I thought maybe it had gotten injured or something but would be ok.  However, this morning, it is clearly dead.  (see photo below)

(Silky string from chrysalis to the ground / Tachinid fly larvae kill a Monarch chrysalis)

The Tachinid fly lays eggs on the caterpillar.  The fly larvae eventually kill the Monarch caterpillar around the time it tries to pupate.  Or, sometimes they wait until the caterpillar has become a chrysalis, as shown in the above photo.  The silky string connected from the chrysalis to the ground is the tell tale sign that the Tachinid fly has struck.

This is probably the 6th or 7th caterpillar of mine that has died due to this parasitic fly.  At the nursery where I'm currently getting my Milkweed plants, the plants are out in the open, and the flies can openly get to the developing caterpillars there.  So, my wife suggested that in the future when we buy more plants, that we remove all caterpillars and put them on other plants.  However, any eggs we could leave, and these would not have been infected with the fly larvae yet.  I think it's a marvelous idea.  This will help us to get the most out of our Milkweed leaves too.  You just hate to invest all of that Milkweed and then get nothing out of it.

I don't mean to say that the Tachinid Fly is all bad.  It preys on other garden pests such as Japanese Beetles, Squash Bugs, Stink Bugs and more.  However, since it preys on my beautiful Monarch caterpillars, it is a neusance to me.  Hopefully, keeping my babies in an enclosure will do the most help.

One note: Please be careful not to use any poisons or pesticides to get rid of pests such as these flies because it will kill your butterflies too.  The Milkweed sap they consume is poisonous, and therefore, the Monarch is full of poison already.  It's body just can't tolerate any more.  So, look for natural ways to control pests and predators.

Perhaps these observations will help you too.  Be sure to keep your caterpillars in a protective enclosure at all times.  In my next Blog entry, I'll show you a pavilion that I have that has worked great for me.

Happy Monarching!

Caleb & Janae Warren

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Incredible Journey of the Butterflies

This weekend, I purchased a new dvd on the Migration of the Monarch butterflies.  It was  PBS NOVA special aired last year.  It is available on regular dvd or Blu-Ray high definition.

(Regular DVD)         (Blu-Ray DVD)

The video photagraphy is stunning.  They researched their subject well.  The tracing of the annual migration of Monarchs is true aweinspiring.  They also highlight the dangers that Monarchs face as they migrate - both natural and manmade.  I know you will enjoy it. It will make a great teaching tool for parents and teachers alike.  It's a great video to help you learn the basics about this facinating creature.  Like they say in the movie, there really isn't anything else in the natural world that quite compares with the Monarch butterfly.

Happy Monarching!

Caleb & Janae Warren

How to Determine the Sex of a Monarch Butterfly

As you know, questions about Monarch butterflies are always welcome here.  My first question comes from none other than my dear sweet mom.  She writes: "How can you tell males from females in Monarch butterflies?"

That's a good question.  It's really quite simple.  Male Monarchs have two black dots on their lower two wings.  (see photos below.)  Females do not have these dots.  The dots are in fact scent glands which releases a pheromone that attracts the females to them for the purpose of mating.

It is even possible to determine the sex of a Monarch butterfly while it is still in its chrysalis.  This is done by taking a close look at the top of the chrysalis.  You might need a magnifying glass for this.  As you look at the top of the chrysalis, you will notice three pairs of two dots right below the cremaster.  Look right below the most bottom set of dots.  If you see a verticle line, then it is a female Monarch that will emerge.  If there is no verticle line, then it will be a male.  (see photo below.)

(In the above photo, the verticle line indicates that this a female Monarch.)

Happy Monarching!
Caleb & Janae Warren

How to Relocate a Chrysalis

Sometimes, a caterpillar chooses a poor location to pupate.  It could be in a dangerous spot for various reasons, or it might be in your way as you work with other caterpillars.  Also, occasionally, the chrysalises do not hold well and fall from their location.  In the above mentioned senarios, relocation of the chrysalis is needed so that the butterfly can properly develop.  But how can you do that? 

Well, first you will need a needle and sewing thread.  Cut off about 18 inches of thread to insure that you have enough. 

1st.  Tie a loop around the top tip of the chrysalis, known as the cremaster.  Tie a second loop to form a knot in the string.  The thread should be securely knotted to the cremaster.

2nd.  Use the other two ends of the string to tie a knotted loop. 

3rd.  Hand the string on a hook or nail in a safe well lighted location.  Your new butterfly should emerge in 10-12 days.  (see photos below)

Happy Monarching.

Caleb & Janae Warren

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Usual Ups and Downs of Butterfly Farming

Well, as usual, today has been a day of ups and downs.  First, the good news.  We have about 50 caterpillars in our second wave.  Two caterpillars successfully pupated today!

Now for the bad news.  One caterpillar did not successfully pupate.  We suspect the parasitic fly has struck again.  Additionally, one of our plants outside the pavillion had Aphids on it.  I tried to kill them as best as I could.  I then took the plant that had Aphids on it and quarantined it in one of my small pavillions.  Well, our new dog ripped into that pavillion when I wasn't looking.  It is ruined.  And, if that isn't bad enough, yesterday, I bumped my hip where it was recently operated on, and it is really bothering me.

So, it hasn't been exactly a stellar day, but we try to keeps our chins up.  There is much work to do to get these 50 caterpillars up to adulthood.

Happy Monarching!

Caleb & Janae

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Runt of the Litter Emerges

This morning, I awoke to a wonderful suprise.  The last of our 7 chrysalises emerged as a small but beautiful male Monarch.  Since he was the last one, and we had already released the other six, he got our full attention.  We saw him emerge from the chrysalis, which is always a wonderful treat.  I've enclosed some pictures and video clips of him emerging, but here is a brief synapsis of what occurs.

When the butterfly first emerges, his wings are all moise and crumpled, and his abdomen appears bloated.  It is filled with a special fluid which must be immediately pumped into his wings in the first 10-15 minutes after emerging.  If not, he/she will never fly.  It is amazing to watch the wings slowly fill up to their full state.  Thereafter, the butterfly will hang upside down for two to four hours allowing the wings to dry.  Then, the butterfly will take off to the skies.

If after emerging from its chrysalis, it falls from it to the ground, it is imperative that the butterfly quickly be placed back up there so it can continue to fill and dry its wings properly.  Most butterflies do not fall in this way, but if you observe this happen, quickly but gently pick it up and help it grasp its chrysalis again.  If for some reason, the chrysalis is not available for the butterfly to cling to, help it to cling to any object that it can hang from in an upside down position.

In the above photos, you can see how engorged the abdomen is when they first emerge.  Then, as they pump that abdominal fluid into their wings over the next 10-15 minutes, they finally take on their full shape.  Thus far, I've raised over 2,000 Monarchs, and I never get tired of seeing them emerge from their chrysalises as new butterflies.  I hope you get to experience this many times over as you raise your own Monarchs.

Monarch Butterfly Emerging (1 of 3)

Monarch Butterfly Emerging (2 of 3)

Monarch Butterfly Emerging (3 of 3)

So, our first batch of Monarchs is finished.  To recap, we had a total of 13 caterpillars.  The first 5 died due to the parasitic worms of a predatory fly.  Fortunately, the remaining caterpillars were still in their eggs when the first 5 were infected.  Thereafter, the remaining 8 hatched out and began their cycle.  We were able to protect them in our covered pavilions.  Of them, 7 made it to butterflies!  Only one died, and that was due to an accident.  When he pupated, his chrysalis fell and burst open.  So, 7 lived and 6 died.  Believe it or not, that's not a bad start for raising Monarchs.  In the wild, on the average, only one would have made it.

Already our next batch of caterpillars are developing and munching away.  Again, we have a variety of ages, varying from eggs to almost ready to pupate.  We'll keep you updated on the progress of the 2nd wave.

Happy Monarching!

Caleb & Janae Warren
Photography and video shots by E. Janae Warren

P.S.  Note to all educators, teachers, students, children, etc: One of the main goals of this site is to provide you with helpful information and support as you endeavor to raise Monarch butterflies and help restore their habitat in your community.  If you do not find an answer to your questions here on my Blog, or at my website:, feel free to email me and I will do my best to help.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

One Monarch Emerges and One Escapes

Well, today is not yet even half over, and it has already been an eventful one.  Monarch #6 emerged this morning, and yes, it was another male.  My son and I decided to put them all in a big pavillion that we have.  Well, in the process, our one and only female ecaped.  Boy was I disappointed.  However, since we have other caterpillars up and coming, it's not a total loss.  I went ahead and released all the other males except one.  I'm saving him for two reasons.  First, he was the only butterfly that was getting nectar from the plants in the pavillion.  All the others were only trying to figure out how to escape.  Second, I'm waiting until my 2 year old daughter gets home, and then we'll release him together.

There is only one chrysalis remaining.  It should emerge in a couple of days.

Well, that's all from here.  Have a great day!


P.S.  Oh, one last note.  We recently got a new dog.  She is an Austrailian Shepherd, and she is about 7 months old.  She's a good dog, and faster than you think.  While releasing our Monarchs, one flew in her vacinity, and in a flash, she had clamped down on it.  I could barely see the tips of the wings in her mouth.  I was mortified.  I verbally chastized her, and she finally dropped the butterfly out of her mouth and slinked away.  To my great relief, the butterfly immediately took off and seemed unharmed.  They are pretty tough creatures.  Hopefully, our dog's butterfly hunting days are over.  *smile*

What Will You Need To Raise Monarch Butterflies?

There are different levels of involvement when it comes to raising Monarchs.  It can be as simple as purchasing a Milkweed plant from your local nursery which happens to have Monarch eggs or caterpillars on it and letting nature take its course.  However, if you do that, you'll probably be in for a big disappointment, as Monarchs have numerous predators.

Obviously, we want to keep things as simple as possible and not break the pocketbook.  So, for a simple setup to raise Monarchs, you will need the following:

1.  Milkweed Plants.  Milkweed is the only plant that Monarch caterpillars can feed on, period.  From time to time, various folks may tell you otherwise, but it just simply isn't true.  There are over 100 different species of Milkweed in the wild, and the Monarch can lay its eggs on about 20 of them.  One of the more popular Milkweed species is Tropical Milkweed.  This is because it is hardy and drought tolerant.  Many nurseries carry this variety.  Its flowers are either red & yellow or yellow.  The beauty of its flowers are another reason it's a favorite among Monarch enthusiasts.  If you can afford it, get 4-6 plants.  Since a Monarch caterpillar consumes 20 full size leaves from the time it leaves the egg until it becomes a butterfly, you will need several plants to raise a few caterpillars.  (Don't be fooled by ads that say one of their mail order Milkweed plants can feed 3-4 caterpillars.  The mail order plants are not that big, and they just can't support that many caterpillars.)  So, the suggestion is to get your Milkweed from a local nursery if possible, and let your plants get tall, strong and full of leaves first.  Then, when you're certain you have enought Milkweed on hand, it's time to get your other supplies and order in your caterpillars.  If your local nusery doesn't carry Milkweed, you may order it through the mail.  I have done that before and had success.  Below is one mail order company.

One suggestion though: pay the little extra fee to have them shipped 2 day, or best, overnight to you.  Then, your plants are not stressed hardly at all, and that helps them get a quicker start toward becoming large mature plants.

A couple of other good Milkweed suppliers are and  If you live in the Corpus Christi Texas area, you can obtain them at Turner's Nursery.  (No, they didn't pay me to say that.  *smile*)  (The above links also carry Monarch caterpillars for sale too.)

2.  If you want to be a Monarch Butterfly farmer, rather than planting your Milkweed in the ground, I recommend that you leave your plants in pots.  (Of course, having a few in the ground in your butterfly garden is nice too.  My suggestion is related solely to raising Monarchs.)  This will enable you to move them easily and allow you to rotate your plants as needed.  Don't let the caterpillars eat down your Milkweed too far.  I have seen them eat a Milkweed plant right down to the dirt, stem and all.  Of course, the plant, since it had no leaves, could not manufacture any more food for itself and died.  So, watch your plants carefully, and if you see they are close to having all their leaves consumed, remove the caterpillars and place them on a new plant with sufficient leaves.  It is for that reason, my suggestion is that you get as many Milkweed plants as you can afford.  I have never had too many.

3.  Simply put, the best way to raise Monarchs is to let the caterpillars free-range on your Milkweed plants, since this is what they would do in nature.  To protect them from predators, you should place the entire plant in a butterfly pavilion.  I suggest one that is about 2 feet high.  My favorite kind is made by  I like it best because it has a zipper on both the top and side of the pavillion.  This makes is easy to care for your caterpillars, and later on, your butterflies.  (see photo below.)  In the pavillion below, you can fit 3 one gallon Milkweed plants with the caterpillars right on them.  The will feed and develop naturally.  When the finally are ready to pupate, they will either crawl up to the top of the pavillion and transform into a chrysalis, or they will do this on the underside of a leaf on the host plant.

4.  Keep all predators away from your baby caterpillars.  This includes, but is not limited to: ants, spiders, wasps, flies, and preying mantis.  The pavillion should greatly help in this regard, but always be vigilant.  One note though: never use poisons or pesticides around your Monarchs.  Their systems just can't take it.  This is because the Milkweed plant sap, which they ingest, is very toxic and poisonous.  So, they are already so full of toxins that they just can't take anymore.  So, take care of the predators in a natural way.

5.  Once the butterfly emerges, you'll probably want to observe it for a while.  I recommend keeping it for about 24 hours and then releasing it into the wild.  If you choose to keep it longer than that, you will have to either feed it sugar water or provide it with plants with nectar flowers that it likes.  That can get a little bit more complicated.  So for beginners, I encourage them to go ahead and release them after the first day as a butterfly.

6.  There are other little odds and ends that you might want to have handy such as a needle and thread, spray bottle with water in it, paper towels, and a few plastic containers with lids in case you need to isolate a caterpillar for some reason.

Really, that is just about it.  Once you get the hang of it, you can raise a lot of Monarch Butterflies before you know it.  Just keep rotating your plants around, and let them feed as they would in nature.  Protect them inside a pavillion, and they will do the rest.

This Blog will continue to provide comprehensive information about rearing Monarchs.  If you have any questions, email me at: