This is how pupation usually occurs if all goes well:
Mesh Pop-up Cages
- They are quite cooperative with forming their chrysalides directly on the mesh roof of the cage
- The side-opening door makes it easy for you to clean your cage and access other caterpillars without bothering the chrysalides
You will find that the caterpillars like to congregate in corners when making chrysalises…sometimes, ominously close to one another. I have tried moving them to a different corner of the cage before they form their silk pupation pad, but many times they crawl right back. Perhaps, this behavior is a ‘safety in numbers’ instinct…
You don’t have to move chrysalises unless they are touching and there’s a chance the two butterflies could emerge on the same day.
Cuttings or Plants
Unfortunately, sometimes we make plans…and caterpillars laugh! Some caterpillars will pupate underneath plant leaves. This is fine if there aren’t other caterpillars in your cage.
However, if other caterpillars are still eating the milkweed your poor caterpillar/chrysalis could soon come crashing to the cage floor.
To avoid this tragedy, cut off a small leaf piece with the chrysalis attached, and tape/pin it up somewhere. I use our kitchen overhang and underneath kitchen cupboards.
Advanced Raising Technique- Moving Chrysalides
You can also remove chrysalises and rehang them…
Chrysalis rehanging is optional when raising monarch butterflies, but I do it for a few reasons:
1) Prevents overcrowding and chrysalis tampering from other caterpillars 2) Prevents hatching butterflies from spreading potential disease to feeding caterpillars below 3) Caterpillar pupates in inconvenient place (i.e. side of cage, plant pot) 4) I enjoy watching monarchs eclose from the breakfast table…a fascinating experience!
In this instance, the cuttings container was on the cage floor and the caterpillar was almost touching. The emerging butterfly would not have had room to dry its wings properly.
You could either place the container on an object (I used the bottom of a flat bowl) to increase the hanging height, or try this…
Option 1- Steps for Removing a Chrysalis
- Let chrysalides dry at least 24 hours before transferring
- Carefully turn the cage, cage lid, or cutting container lid upside down so the chrysalis is laying on the floor and can’t be accidentally dropped
- Use a needle-nose tweezers, pin, or a toothpick to gently loosen the thread attached to the top of the cage
- Pull up the silk/chrysalis together and set down in a safe place (eg: a towel on a table)
- Leave a bit of silk (as shown below) and press it to the ceiling of the mesh cage
- Put the pin through the top of the cage and into the silk and back out through the mesh
Tip 1: Problems pulling up the silk? Spray the silk button and silk around the chrysalis with water. This makes it easier to pull silk off the cage/lid
Tip 2: Nervous about dropping the chrysalis? Place a towel on the cage floor to give it a soft landing…just in case.
Option 2- Steps for Removing a Chrysalis
- Carefully turn cage or cage lid upside down so the chrysalis is laying on the ground and can’t be accidentally dropped
- Use a needle-nose tweezers, needle, or a toothpick to loosen the thread attached to the top of the cage
- Pull up the silk/chrysalis together and set down in a safe place (eg: a towel on a table)
- Tie dental floss around the silk above the cremaster (black part above chrysalis) OR
- Stick at least half of the white silk above the chrysalis on to a piece of scotch tape
- rehang the chrysalis- I usually tape ours under a kitchen cupboard with a soft towel underneath…just in case! OR
- Fold the tape in half over the white silk, then put a binder clip over tape and rehang
Again, this is an optional raising technique and and I’d hate to hear that you dropped your chrysalides, unnecessarily.
Option 3- Steps for Removing a Chrysalis
- Carefully turn the cage or cage lid upside down so the chrysalis is laying on the floor and can’t be accidentally dropped
- Put a strip of scotch tape on the cage lid/ceiling on each side of the chrysalis right on the silk button where the black cremaster is attached to the chrysalis but no tape should be attached to green chrysalis
- Pull up the strips of tape, which should remove all the silk and chrysalis simultaneously
- Bring the sticky sides of the tape together with the silk above the chrysalis in between them
- rehang the chrysalis
- This method works best on the hard plastic lids of kritter keepers
Did You Know?: The plural of chrysalis is chrysalises OR chrysalides.
Hanging By A Thread
I’ve had caterpillars hanging by a single strand of silk. I thought for sure the strand would break and they would fall. Miraculously, one strand did the trick…it it a testament to how incredibly strong their spun silk is.
If a chrysalis is hanging by a thread, simply place a towel beneath it, so it has a soft place to fall…just in case!
Or, cut the thread and try this…
What If There Is a Problem Before The Chrysalis Is Formed?
This has never happened to me in 35 years, but I recently learned this was possible and thought it might be being useful to somebody:
Amazingly, a caterpillar can pupate lying on it side!
While the soft chrysalis is wiggling about, see if you can get the black part on top (the cremaster) to attach to a cotton swab or a cotton ball. Then hang up the swab/cotton with tape, a pin, clothes pin, etc…
If a soft chrysalis is left on the ground to harden, the side touching the ground can flatten slightly from the pressure, but the butterfly should still develop normally. I would still rehang the hardened chrysalis with dental floss (explained under hard chrysalis down)
Soft Chrysalis Chrysalis Down!
If the chrysalis falls while it’s soft and still forming:
- If it’s oozing lots of green liquid after the fall and deflates, it’s probably not going to survive
- If it didn’t fall far, and it’s not oozing (too badly) rehang the chrysalis so it can finish forming properly and so the butterfly can eclose (hatch) and dry its wings normally
- Tape chrysalis by the white silk above its cremaster (black part above the chrysalis) to an overhang or another surface where tape will remain secure OR
- Try to get the black cremaster of the soft forming chrysalis to attach to a cotton swab and rehang that
Hard Chrysalis Down!
If the chrysalis is already fully formed and hardened you have more options:
- Tie dental floss around cremaster (black part above chrysalis) and tie it to a hook securely so it can hang down OR
- Put chrysalis on the cage floor of your mesh cage near a side mesh wall. When it ecloses (hatches) a healthy butterfly should be able to climb the side of the mesh and hang itself to dry OR
- Put chrysalis on the bottom of a styrofoam cooler (which the butterfly can climb up) and put pantyhose over the cooler as a lid it can hang from.
People are sometimes horrified to find that chrysalises have been eaten by their cage mates. In 35 years, this is also something I have never encountered raising caterpillars. I have a theory to why this might be happening to some…
If you’re raising on individual leaves, they start drying out very quickly and the caterpillars will wander away to find fresh milkweed. Their milkweed quest will often take them to the top of the cage where they won’t find milkweed leaves, but milkweed chrysalis cookies instead…
Again, that’s just my theory…but, if you have issues with this, consider switching to stem cuttings or potted plants to see if fresher milkweed stops this disturbing behavior.
My Chrysalis Looks Funny
Sometimes there are diseases or parasites that rear their ugly heads during this phase. If you believe your chrysalis might be compromised, check out the following pages for more info about potential monarch diseases:
If your butterfly doesn’t hatch or is visibly diseased, it’s best to euthanize the chrysalis or butterfly. Some people have a hard time euthanizing monarchs, but if you release visibly diseased butterflies on to your garden plants, you are spreading disease to future monarchs.
Euthanize by placing the monarch inside a paper towel and squeezing or putting inside a plastic baggie and placing it in the freezer.
If you’re unsure about a monarch’s health, my best advice would be to separate the chrysalis from the others and watch it closely to see what happens. The chrysalis below was from a past Raise the Migration. It had two symmetrical black lines that looked worrisome.
The caterpillar pupated while a few others were crawling around the cage roof…could another caterpillar have done this? I wasn’t sure so I moved the chrysalis and waited for nature to take its course…
UPDATE: This chrysalis unveiled a healthy monarch butterfly about a week later. Sometimes disease concerns have happy endings!
So, are you scared yet? Don’t be. These situations rarely happen in my experience, but I want you to be prepared if a pupation problem arises. Many of us will get through this part of the raise without any monarch chrysalis problems.
Soon, it will be time to start enjoying the flying fruits of your labor…
Please Read the Comments Section below for more info about Chrysalis Problems and Normal Development.