First we’ll hunt, then we’ll gather, and finally we’ll find a safe place for your monarch eggs to rest until hatching…
Hunt For Eggs
Where should you look for monarch eggs? Here’s a list of places where many gardeners are finding their migration eggs:
- Small milkweed seedlings that have popped up over the summer
- Rabbit-ravaged plants hanging on for dear life…like the spider milkweed pictured above!
- Lone milkweed plants located away from patches that are chocked full of predators
- Late season fresh-leaved milkweed varieties including tropical milkweed, balloon plant, swamp milkweed
- First year perennial milkweed with fresh leaves including common, swamp, butterfly weed
- Milkweed in shady locations. Monarchs are trying to protect their babies from the sultry late-summer sizzle
- Buds of tropical milkweed
- Seed pods
- Nearby non-milkweed plant leaves or grass…accidents happen!
Of course, monarch females are the queens of egg-hiding, so leave no milkweed leaf unturned!
Search Tip: The glare of the bright sun can make eggs harder to see, so try searching in overcast conditions when the cream-colored eggs contrast better against green milkweed leaves.
A big thanks to community member Robert W. for reminding me that monarchs aren’t the only mamas that lay eggs on milkweed. Here are some close-up monarch egg photos for those who aren’t quite sure what they’re looking for. Notice that monarch eggs have distinct ridges:
If you have a hard time seeing small monarch eggs, try using a magnifying glass to confirm your findings.
Gather Your Eggs
Potted Milkweed Plants
Over the past few seasons, my raising philosophy on potted plants has evolved. In theory, this raising strategy sounds simple, and in some ways… it is! But there are four big reasons I stopped raising monarchs on container plants:
- Milkweed leaves are hard to rinse/clean compared to stem cuttings
- Potted plant health can fade out of optimal growing conditions
- Soil collects frass (caterpillar poop), can get moldy, and can potentially cause disease- some place a barrier over the soil like pastic wrap
- Predators (like small spiders) can hide in the nooks/crannies of your plant or container
If you still opt for using potted plants, bring your potted plant indoors and set it in a pot saucer. The saucer does two things:
- Keeps things clean: no dirty water leaks and it will catch the frass/poop from your tiny caterpillar(s)
- An extra barrier to crawl over in an escape attempt (you don’t need to worry about this if your pot is placed inside large mesh cage from the supply list)
Inspect your plant and remove any bugs or foreign eggs. Do this a couple different times in case you miss something. Make sure the plant has been sufficiently watered. I also mist the leaves with the eggs each morning with a spray bottle…
That’s it…you can coast for about 4 days until the eggs hatch. If you are going on a long weekend vacation, no need to worry. The eggs/small caterpillars will be just fine without you because the milkweed leaves will stay hydrated.
However, if you plan to raise monarchs on potted plants, I would reconsider taking stem cuttings from them instead. Even if you raise on container plants, you will have to switch to cuttings if the monarchs devour your entire plant.
Milkweed cuttings work best for raising monarchs because you can take any size to fit your cage, from a single leaf to a two foot milkweed stalk. They will keep the milkweed hydrated for days and they also keep your caterpillars from crawling around in potentially disease-causing frass!
Which type/size of cuttings you use will depend on the size of your cage and cutting container. We use cuttings in cages that are one foot high and larger.
Large Milkweed Cuttings
10 Easy Steps for taking Large Stem Cuttings
Step 1: Water milkweed regularly while you’re waiting for eggs so the leaves stay hydrated and attractive to monarchs
Step 2: Find a small vase, plastic water bottle, Gatorade bottle, glass jar, or something similar to place your cutting in. Tip: put small rocks, vase fillers, or marbles inside the container to easily keep cuttings in place.
Don’t use a deep vase/bottle that submerges too much of the stalk because you’ll need to pull off leaves that are under water.
Step 3: Fill container with water. Place plastic wrap over the opening of the vase/bottle/jar and secure it with a rubber band.
Step 4: Take your cutting at an angle near the bottom of the stalk, using a pruning shears. (If you need to recut inside, use a sharp knife for a clean cut.)
For a large cage, your cutting should be at least 2 feet. Choose a cutting with more leaves at the top since the stalk will be submerged in water. (You can also use smaller cuttings if you have short milkweed or a small cage.)
Step 5: Rinse off the entire cutting while clearing away bugs and any foreign eggs.
(Be careful not to disturb monarch eggs when you clean off the leaves.)
Step 6: Stand the cutting up next to vase/bottle and remove any leaves that would be submerged after you put it in. Remove those bottom leaves.
Step 7: Put the excess leaves in a plastic baggie and save them in your refrigerator for future milkweed emergencies.
Step 8: Use the pruner or the knife to nick the sides of the cutting in 2-3 more places. This gives the cutting more water-entry points to keep it fully hydrated.
Step 9: Before placing cutting in water, rinse sap off the bottom of the cutting to insure it can uptake water properly.
Step 10: Place the cutting through the plastic into your bottle/vase. Use small strips of duct tape to cover tiny holes that caterpillars could crawl through.
Step 10: Check them a few hours later to see if the leaves or flowers look wilted. If they do, your cutting may not be uptaking water properly and you may have to recut the stem. But, if your cuttings look like this…
Eggs On Medium or Small Cuttings
I personally use medium & small cuttings for bringing in monarch eggs, and keep them in floral tubes/picks:
Tip: the longer the submerged part of your cutting, the less often your floral picks will need to be refilled.
You can also use small food storage containers for smaller cuttings. Place small rocks, marbles, or vase fillers inside to secure the stems. I pierced the hard-plastic cover with a small phillips screwdriver:
Use duct tape to cover any small spaces between cutting and lid. If duct tape is pressed down securely, it will stay down! I have used it for years and never had a caterpillar get stuck to it.
Remember to nick the submerged part of the cutting in a couple places to insure it takes up enough water to stay fully hydrated.
Eggs On Single Milkweed Leaves
Use milkweed leaf cuttings of swamp/common/tropical in florist tubes. Keep in mind, leaf petioles are short so the tubes will need to be refilled daily.
However, a single milkweed leaf can feed a baby caterpillar for up to 5 days, depending on leaf size.
Tip: Cut leaf away from both sides of the midrib to submerge the leaf further inside the tube:
Eggs On Single Leaf Pieces
If you don’t have floral tubes or your leaves are in shambles, bring the leaves inside and set them on a plate or tray for cutting into small pieces.
Put a paper towel in the bottom of your food container/kritter keeper and set your leaf pieces on top.
Spray the leaf pieces with water and then secure the lid. Spray the leaves once a day to keep adequate moisture levels.
Protect Your Eggs
You may have noticed there are panyhose on the kritter keeper lid.
Putting pantyhose on the lid holds in more moisture so the leaves won’t dry up before the eggs hatch. Later, the out-of-fashion hose will also keep newborn caterpillars from escaping through the large lid holes.
I prefer kritter keepers as egg hatcheries for leaf pieces because they keep in moisture so single leaves don’t dry up. We use the mesh cages for full leaf and stem cuttings.
Where to Keep Cages?
I keep my egg-upied cuttings in a 3-season porch, with the windows left open so it doesn’t get too stuffy. The plants/eggs receive normal heat and humidity without being exposed to harsh elements like strong winds, drowning rains, and direct sunlight.
If the overnight low is below 55° F I will bring the cage in. Cold temperatures slow down metamorphosis. I will also bring the cages indoors if it reaches higher than 95° F. The temperature indoors should not be below 70° F.
If you don’t have a porch, you can also raise monarchs indoors.
If you ordered monarch eggs from an egg vendor, the starting process is a bit easier. Last season, I had eggs sent by Rose Franklin on a tropical milkweed plant. I simply removed the plastic covering from the plant, misted the leaves/eggs with water and placed the small pot in my mesh cage.
After your pots/cuttings are situated, all you need to do is lightly mist the eggs/leaves with water each morning.
Now we wait for your cream-colored eggs to darken, signaling the impending birth of your baby monarch caterpillars…
Please Read the Comments Section below for more info about Hunting, Gathering, and Protecting Monarch Eggs.