The year 2021 was my first year raising monarch butterflies. In fact, I started planting seeds in 2020. Milkweed dies in the winter and comes back in spring. When the spring of 2021 rolled around, some milkweed came back. I found many caterpillars on the plants. Several caterpillars died because I left them on the plants and didn’t know what happened to them. I dug up some milkweed and put them in a-gallon pots. I went through many ways to secure them. Eventually, I bought two cages and raised 12 butterflies.
I have some milkweed from last year that died in winter and just came back in the early spring this year. One female monarch came back from the south earlier than I expected. When I watered the Milkweed, I found five caterpillars within a few days.
I wouldn’t have enough plants to feed them. It takes about one 1-gallon plant to feed two caterpillars. I bought four 1-gallon plants at Armstrong Nursery. Even though I only have five caterpillars, and I may have more later in the summer, the Milkweed will be gone in a few weeks.
I set up the two cages. Young caterpillars are escapers. They run away from the plant constantly. I didn’t want to keep watching to rescue them. To keep them from crawling out to fall to the bottom of the pot, I made a net with mash to pin it from the edge of the pot to the four walls of the cage. It was easier for me to see the caterpillars when they ran away from the plant. I could pick them up and put them back on the plant.
The caterpillars cling to the milkweed during the last week of the growing state when they are getting big and hungry. They’d keep eating until time to pupate. They crawl up to the top of the cage and find a secure spot to spin the silk mat from which they hang upside down by their last pair of prolegs.
Using my experience last year, I clipped some rubber coating wires to make an arc across the top of the cage and stick one piece of wire from the pot to the top of the cage. Some caterpillars crawled up from the wire in the middle and some crawled up from the side of the cage.
It takes about two weeks for the adult butterfly to emerge. Right before emerging, the black and orange colors are clear in the pupa. After the adult butterfly emerges, it hangs on the shell until the wings are strong enough to fly.
Monarchs do not mate until they are three to eight days old. Females lay eggs immediately after their first mating. Adults in summer generations live from two to five weeks.
Each year, the last generation of monarchs has an additional job. They migrate to overwintering grounds, either in central Mexico for eastern monarchs or in California for western monarchs. Here they spend the winter clustered in trees until weather and temperature conditions allow them to return to their breeding grounds. These adults can live up to nine months.
Here are the videos of my first Monarch in 2022.