The Monarchs Are Sprouting! (Raising Monarchs, Part I)

While my veggies have had some ups and downs, one thing has been growing like gangbusters… monarch caterpillars! Yay! Ever since planting milkweed a few weeks ago these adorable stripy creatures have been hatching like crazy. I have spent many pleasant hours watching them contentedly chewing their way through my plants. They basically spend their whole caterpillar life – two weeks, give or take – munching milkweed, gaining nourishment for their transformation into butterflies.

Until recently I knew nothing about these guys. I knew the butterflies were big and pretty but I did not know they were disappearing due to loss of habitat. I really did not know their caterpillars look like baby tigers. And I especially did not know that they eat milkweed, and they only eat milkweed. They eat A LOT of milkweed. For real, they will eat these plants to the ground! I’ve already been back to the nursery for five more plants which, of course, had eggs already, which will hatch and eat these plants to the ground, so I’ll go back to the nursery for more plants… and so on. Take note nurseries, milkweed is good for business!

Monarch visiting plumeria
Monarch visiting plumeria

We see a few monarchs every year, but we’ve never had caterpillars and now I know why. It has been exciting to see how quickly the migrating monarchs discovered our little patch of milkweed and started laying tiny white eggs. If you look closely you can see one on the underside of a leaf above the lowest caterpillar in the pic above the pic above. I know, that’s confusing, but blogging sometimes gets that way. Anyway, look at the only underside of a leaf showing in that whole picture with all the caterpillars – do you see the egg? It’s really tiny!

I’ve learned that monarchs go through five stages, known as “instars.” Each stage is accompanied by a shedding of their skin, which is more like a cuticle than skin apparently. During this process the caterpillar will wander away from the milkweed and stay very still, sometimes up to 36 hours, while it sheds and then proceeds to eat its outer layer. Sometimes the instars change dramatically, others are so similar I can’t yet tell them apart.

At some point in the 5th instar stage instinct drives them to wander off, find a nice place to hang, shed their final ‘skin’ and transform into a gorgeous bright green chrysalis. Speaking of which, while we were out of town last week some little smarty pants thought it would be funny to perform this magical act on our outdoor shower head.

Inconvenient for us, but so pretty! Can’t you just picture the woman who would wear these as earrings? Unfortunately that woman is not me, and since we use our shower daily I decided to relocate the chrysalis to a better place to hatch. Following instructions at monarchwatch.org I started by tying a thread around its stem. Using a needle I was able to gently pry the silky threads from the shower head and release the pod.

In order for the butterfly to form properly the monarch pupa must be hanging, so I tied the thread through some cheesecloth and attached it with a rubber band over the top of a big glass jar. I’m keeping an eye on it so I can release the butterfly as soon as its wings have dried. If I manage to capture the moment it hatches on film you’ll be the first to know!

To all my lovely blog-buddies at Angie’s blog party, I’m back and I’ve missed you! Happy Fiesta Friday #21… I hope I brought enough milkweed for everyone 🙂

Visit monarchwatch.org to learn more about attracting monarch butterflies to your garden. Not only are they beautiful creatures, they are great pollinators and they need our help! It’s a total win-win.

Monarch caterpillar
Monarch caterpillar

~~~~~~~~~~~~~ THE END ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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25 Comments Add yours

  1. Wow – that is quite amazing. I had no idea that Monarchs are in danger – I always picture swarms of them migrating to the rain forests! Really interesting post – thanks for sharing and Happy Fiesta Friday!

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    1. Sheri Fox says:

      It was the same for me Selma. I never imagined they’d be at risk, they’re all over the place! Aren’t they?? Apparently not so much, but hopefully with some help they’ll be fully restored. Thx for your comment, happy FF! Sheri 🙂

      Like

  2. Loretta says:

    What a great post, and the pictures look so vivid. Wow, lots of great information here. Thanks for sharing 🙂

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    1. Sheri Fox says:

      Thank you Loretta! Glad you enjoyed it. Your blog title is very intriguing… think I’ll head over and see more 🙂 sheri

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  3. Sheri, what an awesome..awesome post. I so enjoyed reading this. Your photos are so pretty…and I think you just cured my heebie jeebies when I see a cocoon or something like that around my house! I’ve never harmed them…I’ve just stayed away. One summer, about five years ago…I’m not sure what happened, but it was the saddest, most eerie thing… I bet that there were about 25 dead monarchs in my back yard. I don’t know what happened to them…I wondered if they were migrating somewhere, and maybe at that moment one of the farmers sprayed the field or something. I was so sad for those beautiful creatures. I’ll never forget that. It makes me happy that you have a little haven for them. Wonderful post. ❤

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    1. Sheri Fox says:

      That’s such a sad story Prudy! Who knows what happened? They might have feasted on chemical-laden nectar nearby. Stoopid RoundUp. BUT I’m happy to have cured you of cocoonaphobia! It’s taken me time to learn to love (or not fear at least) all these weird things in nature too. Thanks for your nice comments, I really appreciate them 🙂 sheri

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  4. Jhuls says:

    Ahhh! They are so gorgeous, Sheri. I am so amazed. ❤ Thank you for coming back to FF. 🙂 Have a wonderful weekend.

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    1. Sheri Fox says:

      Thank you Jhuls, happy to be here to share these lovely creatures 🙂 Stay tuned, if all goes well we’ll have new butterflies soon!

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  5. wow those are gorgeous, thank you so much for sharing such an interesting post x

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    1. Sheri Fox says:

      Glad you enjoyed it! They are such pretty little creatures, aren’t they?

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      1. yes, really amazing colours and great shots you got and soooo many wow x

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        1. Sheri Fox says:

          Thank you. Luckily the cats don’t move too quick for my camera 😉

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  6. Hilda says:

    Despite my hundreds of milkweed plants, I still have not seen any evidence of monarch anythings, but still hoping. It is good to know that they have found at least one haven.

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    1. Sheri Fox says:

      I’m way down here in San Diego so they still have a ways to go til they reach you. No doubt they’ll be very hungry by the time they get there! I’ll let mine know you have a feast awaiting them 😉

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  7. angenette says:

    I love this post — and so did my kids. We really found it neat to see the life cycle of the monarch evolve as the post went on. And you’ve inspired me to find some milkweed plants to add to my garden.

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    1. Sheri Fox says:

      That’s so cool, I love that you’re looking for milkweed! I have two butterflies hatching this week and hope to share more pics. I’m totally mesmerized by this whole process. So happy you shared this with your kids. 🙂

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  8. chefjulianna says:

    Hi Sheri, I hope you didn’t think I was ignoring you! I tried to leave a comment when you first posted this, and for some reason I couldn’t! Well, here I am, though. I agree with everyone else! This is a completely fascinating post, and I can’t believe you actually provide habitat for and get to watch these beauties transform. What an amazing experience. I just love all of your photos, but especially the one of the chrysalis hanging from the shower head! 😀 Wow! Your whole post just puts me in awe of nature. Thanks a million for bringing this to Fiesta Friday! 🙂

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    1. Sheri Fox says:

      The comment issue was my fault – new iPad, new blogging app, blah blah… I appreciate you coming back! I’m so happy this post was so well received too. You never know what will happen when you show up to a party with creepy crawlers. I find these guys endlessly fascinating. Can’t believe I’d never heard of milkweed 6 months ago! Hopefully I’ll be sharing pics of a butterfly emerging soon ~ s

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      1. chefjulianna says:

        Really looking forward to that! Glad you figured out the iPad thing. And I’m glad I went back to see if I could leave a comment!

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    1. Sheri Fox says:

      So cool you thought of me! Can’t wait to see what you spotted…

      Like

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