Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Raising a Monarch Butterfly

This isn't the first time I've talked about raising monarch caterpillars. But it is one of our family's favorite summer activities and I thought it was worth reposting!  I would probably have forgotten it if my children wouldn't have reminded me!
One of my favorite late summer memories as a child is finding monarch caterpillars and raising them to butterflies. Here in the northeast, monarch butterflies are laying their eggs on milk weed plants in July or August.
For a fun project for children (and adults!) take a walk down a weedy road or abandoned lot and look for tiny striped caterpillars on milk weed plants. Though you can raise other kinds of caterpillars, monarchs are easy to find because they only eat milkweeds.
Cut the milk weed plant and place it in a jar of water. The caterpillar will eat voraciously and grow quickly. You may need to pick more milk weed leaves for him to eat.
When he reaches his ultimate size, he will look for a quiet place to make his chrysalis. At this point it is good to have him trapped in a jar because he will roam out of sight in search of a quiet place! An ideal system is a large gallon size jar with a small baby food jar of water inside for the milk weed. But if you don't have a jar big enough, a box with a screen top so you can watch him, works as well.
The caterpillar will hang from his tail with a little webbing and then change into his lovely green chrysalis. I didn't think to get a picture of this step in the process! The chrysalis will gradually turn black and you'll be able to faintly see his wings.
In about two weeks, he will emerge as a beautiful monarch! Release him to the outdoors to begin his long flight to Mexico for the winter. Learn more about these fascinating monarch butterflies. We've been enjoying some of the library books about butterflies but nothing beats watching it first hand.
Give it a try, and maybe it will become a favorite memory for your children as well. (And you don't have to have a child around to enjoy it!) 
Have you ever tried raising a butterfly?

1 comment :

  1. We did this for the first time this year! Bill and I were taking walks in the morning before the kids woke up (it lasted all of 2-3 weeks before it was too dark) and I spotted the caterpillars & he carried them them home for the last mile. We released one yesterday and have one left in its chrysalis. It's a ton of fun. I'll probably post our photos in a week or so.


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