Helpful Solutions for Raising Monarchs through the Entire Butterfly Life Cycle
Before you start raising, you’ll need an ample supply of the caterpillars favorite (and only) food resource. If you’re planning ahead, seeds will suffice, but in case of milkweed emergencies plants, plugs, and cuttings can help support monarchs much sooner.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to have a cage that can be easily cleaned and dried if you want to avoid monarch diseases. The fine mesh on these cages will also keep baby caterpillars from escaping and predators from entering.
All of these options are easy to clean and dry, portable, and are easy to store for winter.
I highly suggest having a second mesh pop-up for releasing and keeping butterflies overnight if there is inclement weather. Butterflies should never be kept in the same cage as feeding caterpillars because they can spread disease (OE spores) from their wings and bodies to the unsuspecting caterpillars below. Here are a few butterflies we released in early summer:
Butterfly Raising Books
Raising monarch butterflies is a process. The better your process is, the more successful your results will be. If you’re not raising healthy monarchs with a 90% survival rate, take some time to review and improve your process… you (and the monarchs) will be glad you did!
1. Raise More Monarchs, with Less Effort, and At Least a 90% Survival Rate (updated January 2016)
Raise On Stem Cuttings
Placing stem cuttings in water extends the life of your milkweed and keeps it hydrated until your caterpillar guests are finished.
For raising monarchs, we typically place milkweed stem cuttings in food storage containers filled with flat vase fillers and water. The vase fillers keep the cuttings firmly in place. Carefully puncture the lid with a small phillips head screwdriver:
If the stems are on the short side, pick floral tubes are also a fantastic way to keep the leaves fresh. They have been an invaluable tool for keeping chokecherry leaves fresh for tiger swallowtail caterpillars. Stick the pick in a container with vase fillers or in a styrofoam block/lid to keep the cutting elevated.
Recently, I’ve also used the floral tubes with single common milkweed leaves for instar 1 and 2 monarch caterpillars. You will have to fill the water back up to the top of the tube every couple days, but it keeps the leaf fresh and caterpillars happy:
Monarch Eggs & Caterpillars
While finding eggs or caterpillars on milkweed is usually the preferred method for starting your raising journey, that’s not always realistic in today’s changing landscape. The following resources offer eggs, caterpillars, and chrysalises to insure your season gets off to a flying start.
Please don’t order monarchs unless you have access to milkweed plants…a great option for public/private schools, and also homeschool projects.
note: these options are only good for those who live east of the continental divide. These vendors aren’t allowed to ship further west due to USDA regulations.
Cage Cleaning Supplies
Some universities and butterfly breeders use a 5%-10% bleach solution mixed with water to clean cages and other raising supplies. You could either mix it in a spray bottle or soak the cages in a tub. I would suggest starting with the 5% solution (1 part bleach to 19 parts water) before trying a stronger concentration.
Bleach is corrosive and can irritate eyes and skin so use with caution…
Protect your caterpillars from monarch diseases by sanitizing their cage in between monarch batches and at the end of every season. Rinse and dry your supplies thoroughly after using bleach.
Some raisers use clorox wipes or similar brands to disinfect both cages and raising equipment such as cuttings containers. Rinse and dry your supplies thoroughly after using bleach wipes.
A portable handheld vacuum is the perfect tool for cleaning up caterpillar frass (poop)quickly…and without getting your hands dirty! An inexpensive cordless vacuum is your best option, as too much suction can pull up the cage floor.
These frass-catching platters are a perfect fit for the baby cube butterfly cage.
5. Boot Trays
In the summer we use these for holding cuttings containers while cleaning out the caterpillar cages. In the winter, they can also be used as saucers for potted plants.
Advanced Raising Tips & Techniques
Instar 1-3 caterpillars (less than 1/2″ long) are usually too small for moving by hand. If you need to move tiny cats to new milkweed, try using a small paintbrush to aid your transfer. Moving them is usually not necessary, but it’s a good option if needed.
Butterfly Raising Articles
Raising Resources for Schools
A helpful checklist of all the important points to consider before starting your school butterfly garden.
This informative video created by Bill and Sally Levinson shows monarchs as most have never seen them. See molting, pupation, and other amazing details of monarch metamorphosis. Great material for igniting a spark in the scientists of tomorrow!
This University of Minnesota program provides educational workshops and training for local teachers. Not in Minnesota? MITC also has printed lesson plans for those in other regions.
The Monarch Teacher Network (MTN) is a growing network of teachers and other people who use monarch butterflies to teach a variety of concepts and skills, including our growing connection with other nations and the need to be responsible stewards of the environment.
Get first hand gardening/raising tips from experts in your region.