Thursday, June 10, 2010

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:

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