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  • Lake Chapala

Monarch Butterflies

Updated: Jul 26, 2021

Raising Monarch Butterflies.

  • It takes about thirty days (depending upon the weather) from egg to butterfly.

  • You need to plant milkweeds (asclepias), the only host plant for the monarch butterfly.

  • A host plant is a plant that supplies food resources.

  • Plant the milkweed and they will come

  • If you plant the milkweed and leave it alone, ten percent, on average, of the eggs/caterpillars that feed on it, will turn into monarchs. This is in the Wild.

  • Once you have some milkweed in your yard, plan on a few months for a good size, check the underside of the leaves for eggs. This is where they are laid .

  • They are small and white, the size of a pin head and oval in shape. Very distinctive.

  • Eggs hatch within 5 days of being laid.

  • When a dark spot forms on the top of the egg, and becomes translucent, the egg is ripe. The head of the caterpillar will emerge out of the black spot and then proceed to eat the eggshell.

  • Caterpillars are teeny tiny when first hatched but grow quickly.

  • The will shed their skin 4 times before it is ready to form its chrysalis. This is called pupating. This takes approx. 14 days for all 4 stages of molting to occur.

  • When the caterpillar in this molting stage, it hardly moves at all for a few hours but eventually sheds this exoskeleton.

  • It needs to do this in order to get larger.

  • After it has shed or molted for the 4th time, it will quit eating and begin to look for a place to transform into a chrysalis. This can take all day. (Keep spider webs out of your yard because they can trap the caterpillar and also the butterfly.)

  • You know when it finds a place because it will hang upside down, in a J shape attached with threads of silk that it has made. It can hang like this for 24 hours. Do not touch it now.

  • The skin will now split and the caterpillar will twist and turn until it discards this skin. It will continue pumping and moving and condensing in length until it reaches its complete chrysalis form.

Details here:

  • After 2 weeks in the chrysalis, it will turn from its green color to a dark black and you can see it is a bit transparent now and the dark color are the wings of the butterfly. One day after it turns, the butterfly will emerge, usually in the late morning.

  • If the chrysalis falls or breaks from where it is attached, reattach it to something with a thread. The newly emerged butterfly needs to hang upside down for a few hours to dry and pump blood into its wings.

  • The air temperature needs to be above 60 degrees F or 15 degrees C.

  • The hotter the weather the sooner the butterfly will emerge.

So, that is what happens from egg to butterfly.

  • 4 stages - egg – caterpillar – chrysalis –butterfly

They also go through 4 generations.

  • The 4th generation that will be born this year, in the fall, will hibernate and will come out of hibernation in approx. December or January of the following year.

  • It will look for a mate then migrate north and east to lay their eggs. Some stay here and will lay their eggs. This normally happens in January. These new eggs will be the First Generation.

  • The monarchs will emerge as butterflies and fly away, look for a mate, lay eggs for Generation Two and die. This encompasses two to six weeks. A short life.

  • The Second Generation, born in May and June and the Third Generations born in July and August will repeat everything the First Generation did.

  • The Fourth Generation will repeat everything as above EXCEPT it will live six to eight months instead of two to six weeks.

  • The Fourth Generation must migrate to warmer climates or it will not survive the cold winters.

  • They start their migrations in October, more or less, and head southwest to California or Mexico. East of the Rockies, they head to Michoacan Mexico and hibernate in the oyamel fir trees. West of the Rockies they head to the area of Pacific Grove California, by Monterey in Northern California and they hibernate in the eucalyptus trees.

  • They use the same trees every year.

  • This Fourth Generation migrates 2,500 miles each year. The only insect that does this.

Bad things.......

  • Tachinid flies and braconid wasps are two parasitoids that feed on and kill monarchs. These parasitoids lay their eggs on the caterpillars.

  • Tachinid fly larvae feed on monarch caterpillars, but usually don’t kill their hosts until just before the caterpillars pupate. When a parasitized caterpillar hangs upside down in the pre-pupal “J”-shape, several tachinid fly larvae or maggots will come out of the monarch caterpillar. The fly maggots drop to the ground on long, gel-like threads. This also happens from the chrysalis.

  • Braconid wasps do not parasitize monarchs as often as tachinid flies. When braconids do attack monarchs they can produce as many as 32 tiny adult wasps from a single butterfly. Very little is known about how frequently various invertebrate parasites and predators harm monarchs in different parts of their range.

And one more problem is OE. Ophryocystis elektroscirrha (OE).

This is a protozoan parasite that infects monarch and queen butterflies. OE isn’t an animal or a plant, but a protozoan, a single celled organism.

It only affects Monarch and Queen butterflies and is said to have co-evolved with the monarchs. OE cannot live without this host.

If you find you have OE, after you have gone through a cycle of butterflies in your butterfly house, wash everything down, including the plants, with a weak 10-15% bleach solution. Pour the left over water in the potted plant. It will not harm the plant. Now you can start the cycle over.

Here is a link to OE and hope you never get it as it is harder to eradicate than the other parasites.

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