We Raised a Few Monarchs

I follow a lot of gardening instagram accounts (follow me @somewhatplannedgardening) and one consistency is a lot of gardeners raise monarchs. Being the follower that I am, I had to get on board.

I planted milkweed in the spring and honestly, by August figured the monarchs weren't able to find my house. I only had one plant and it was somewhat hidden by other overgrown things. On top of that, my plant looked scraggly and while it bloomed consistently I wasn't sure if it was 'doing well.' I resigned myself to leaving it alone and decided to plant more next year and move on.

One early September morning I was checking on something else in that garden when I spied tons of monarch caterpillars. Needless to say, I was more than excited and this is where our journey begins....

My one plant was nearly devoured by these cuties so I called a local nursery to see if they still had milkweed in stock. They did so I drove over and bought two more plants. I also bought 2 bug cages from Walmart so I had a place to put the things. (They are actually fish transport containers in the pet fish department, in case you were wondering.) After school my kids carefully helped me take all these little guys and stick them in the two containers and put the bigger ones in one and the smaller ones in another along with handfuls of milkweed.

Some of the bigger one's went into J within a day or two. Right away we had 3 chrysalids. It was pretty cool.

The caterpillar is about to change when it's antennae look wilted.
At that point, don't blink or you'll miss it! 
I had also ordered a butterfly tent from Amazon and thankfully it came just in time. The fish tank containers were just too small for all these and they need space to fly around once they emerge from the chrysalis. I read a tip to turn the tent onto it's side, giving the caterpillars more room. By doing so we "lost" the view from the clear window (which was now facing down) but giving the caterpillars more spaces as well and making it a little easier to clean was a good trade off.

We transferred all the cat's into the bigger tent in time for 4 more chrysalids to form. Only, like I said, now they would have more space.

We changed out the paper towel/poop collector daily and added more milkweed throughout the day. My tent was too small to hold an actual plant, so I had to rely on cuttings. I washed the leaves really well and patted them dry before adding to the tent. You do this with plants from a nursery because you don't know if the grower (or the nursery) sprayed with any pesticides. Once planted in your yard and the next year's growth comes out, the plant is now pesticide-free (Well, providing you don't spray with anything- which includes flea/tick stuff! Monarchs are incredibly sensitive.) 

We had many, many hot, hot days. We were setting records here in middle Tennessee so we tried our hardest to keep them out of the sunlight. This was out 'redneck' method of keeping them shaded. Cardboard is a multi-use device.

Once most of them formed their chrysalis we moved the tent to the backyard table. Mainly so we could see a little easier but it also provided a little more shade.

The beauty of the chrysalis is stunning. The perfect seafoam green with the golden details just make you want to stop and stare. And we did, many times.

But with beauty is sorrow and we lost a few of our little guys. We lost two to tachnid fly which is a fly that lays its eggs on the skin of a small caterpillar. The eggs hatch and 'live' inside the caterpillar feasting on non-essential parts until it forms it's chrysalis. Once the chrysalis is formed it eats the rest of the caterpillar and then climbs out of the chrysalis and slides down a white string. The larvae ends up on the floor of the container and starts the process all over again.

Evidence of Tachnid Fly.
The 2 holes where they emerge plus the lines dripping down from the holes.
The baby fly slides down those strings. 
If you see this, find the larvae and kill it immediately before it gets your other caterpillars

We lost one chrysalis to black death. It's when the chrysalis just dies. It turns black and the butterfly never emerges.

Black Death. The caterpillar/chrysalis just dies.
photo courtesy of google. I couldn't find the picture of my own. 

But luckily we only lost those three. The others were fine and there is nothing like watching your first butterfly emerge. It really is a memorizing experience!

The chrysalis gets really clear and you can see the black of the monarch inside. And then all of a sudden, it cracks itself open and crawls out. It;s wings gradually unfold and it hangs upside down for a few hours as they dry out.

After they flew around our tent for awhile we let them go. You cannot keep them as pets, don't even think about it. If it's a rainy or really gusty day, it's recommended to keep them in the tent until the weather clears. You can do this for us to 24 hours. Lucky for us, each day we released them was calm and beautiful.

We ended our first season with 7 males and 2 females. They all emerged at the end of September which means they are super monarchs and the ones that migrate to Mexico. I hope they all made it!

We can't wait to do this again next year!