Other common names: Milkweed Butterfly
Scientific name: Danaus plexippus
The Monarch Butterfly is found all throughout North America. The only time they leave their native habitats is in autumn when they migrate to the Neovolcanic mountains of Mexico. They spend about 4 months in this region where they hibernate for the winter.
Appearance / health:
Monarch Butterflies are a large species of butterfly. The body reaches about 1 1/2 inches long with wing spans of about 2 inches. Their bodies are a velvety black color. The wings are outlined in black with the veins of the wing being covered in black as well. In between these black outlines is a bright red-orange or orange color. The edge of the wings are also outlined with small white spots. Monarch caterpillars are banded with black, yellow, and white stripes.
Behavior / temperament:
Monarch Butterflies are completely harmless to humans. However, to most birds and other animals these butterflies are poisonous. They get their poison from the Milkweed that they eat while in the caterpillar stage. (Milkweed secretes poisonous fluids) To anyone planning on keeping these butterflies as pets, please remember that in many areas these butterflies are endangered and you may not be able to keep them. It is recommended that Monarchs be released after raising the caterpillars and the butterfly hatches from the chrysalis. Raising these butterflies is both fascinating and fun for people of any experience and ages.
As caterpillars, a jar with air holes is all that’s needed. As adults, they are typically let go back into the wild but if that’s not possible a large fully screened enclosure will work well. It should be large enough to allow the butterfly to fly for short periods of time.
Temperatures and humidity should mimic the are that these butterflies are found in. Generally temps between 70-80F will do well. Humidity should stay around 50-70%. No substrate is needed for a caterpillar, unless adding paper towels to clean up the droppings. Items inside the tank is important and should include many branches, twigs, and other climbable objects. A couple sticks going horizontally at the top of the enclosure for the caterpillar is important as it will usually pupate from these. Tank décor as butterflies should be pretty much the same, but in a larger enclosure. Milkweed must be added to both the caterpillars and butterflies enclosure.
Monarch caterpillars only eat the leaves of the Milkweed plant. This plant is very beneficial and is necessary for raising Monarchs. Adult Monarchs sip nectar out of a variety of plants including the Milkweed, Thistle, Goldenrod, Red Clover, etc.
beautiful orange monarch, Chrysalis life stage, great educational experience, metamorphoses
live milkweed, liquid diet, initial setup
temporary pets, ripe melons, delicate wings, outdoor enclosure, migrational pattern
Rearing Monarch caterpillars
While living in Tenerife in the Canary Islands I have reared a lot of monarch butterflies from egg to adult stage by growing the tropical milkweed plant the caterpillars need as food.
I discovered that the female monarchs will find your plants if you grow them and will lay eggs all over the leaves and in the flower buds.
Monarch larvae will actually eat any species of milkweed (Asclepias) but they need a lot of the plant to be able to reach full size. This can be a problem because if they run out of food they will wander in search of more and can get lost and starve.
I came up with a way of making sure they are safe. I take an empty large plastic water bottle and cut a slit around the middle so I can access it easily. This can be taped shut with sticky tape. I put some tissue on the floor of the bottle and put milkweed stalks with leaves and flowers inside the container. I keep the bottle top on so they cannot escape, and in case you are wondering, there is enough air inside the container. I keep large caterpillars this way and find that they will readily pupate by climbing up to the top of the water bottle, spinning pads of silk on the plastic, hanging head-down and then transforming into chrysalises. In a warm climate the butterflies will emerge in around 10 days. I have released as many as 50 in the same week that I have reared this way..
From BardofEly Nov 7 2014 3:56PM
From caterpillar to butterfly
I have loved butterflies since I was a kid, when I started catching them and collecting them at my grandparent's place in the summer out in the country. Monarchs have always been my favorite butterfly. Eventually, I worked at a place that had a field behind it. In this field grew milkweed. I started going outside and closely looking it over, knowing that that is the preferred food of Monarch butterfly caterpillars. Eventually, I started to find some, (I still remember how absolutely thrilled I was!) and thus began my daughter's and my adventure in raising and releasing Monarch butterflies. She was five or six years old at the time. Because I was homeschooling her, I decided that this would be an excellent science lesson. and, as I said, I love Monarchs. I carefully removed the caterpillars and picked several leaves off of the plants, putting them into a plastic bag, which I refrigerated to keep the leaves edible, to make sure the caterpillars had a steady food supply. I set them up in an aquarium in my room. I would put fresh leaves in as necessary, removing the withered ones. I'd also clean out the aquarium on a regular basis, because those caterpillars are voracious eaters, and, as a consequence, they produce a lot of poop! So she and I would watch them grow. When they were getting close to making their chrysalis, if I happened to catch them at the right time, I'd hang them from my lampshade, and my daughter and I would watch the caterpillar transform itself from a caterpillar to a chrysalis. We'd then keep an eye on the chrysalis, watching it go from being green to clear with the butterfly being easily seen inside of the chrysalis. We'd then watch as the butterfly broke free of the chrysalis. It would pump its abdomen rhythmically, filling the veins in its wings with the fluid necessary to unfurl them so the butterfly could fly. Once this was accomplished, we normally did not keep them as pets for very long, although we did do so occasionally, feeding them sugar water. Usually, however, we'd release them at night, to go and live and make more Monarchs. We did this every summer for several years. I highly, highly, highly, recommend this activity for people who want to teach their children some valuable science, as well as about conservation. I also recommend this activity for people who want to see the Monarch proliferate, as their numbers have been dwindling. Just make sure that you are willing to put in the time and the dedication necessary to make sure that the caterpillars have enough fresh leaves and that you keep their house clean, and that you keep an eye on them so you know when they are ready to fly!.
From Casingda Aug 9 2015 11:58AM
I have always been fascinated by and in love with butterflies. Growing up in MI, there were a plethora of Monarchs every year. Of course, before the butterflies, there were tons of Caterpillars, as well. One year, I decided I was going to see a Monarch emerge from the Chrysalis life stage (lots of people call this a cocoon, but those are made of silk and encase a moth). The Chrysalis is made up of protein, and is absorbed as the butterfly goes through the emergence phase of it's life.
I was blessed to have found a Chrysalis on a thick stick in one of our trees and I took it and put it in a large Mason Jar. Because I didn't want to miss the emergence of the butterfly, I took the jar with me to school each day and the kids in the classroom were just as excited as I was for the Monarch to arrive.
When it happened, it was at home and I was taught a very valuable lesson. I didn't get to see the actual emergence, but I did see the changed creature, a large Monarch, wet with it's wings crumpled and unable to open all of the way in the Jar. As soon as I saw it, I released it outside right by the front door in the flower bed. The poor little thing just lay there. I thought that the sun would dry it's wings, and she would fly off. That didn't happen, though.
The reality is that a fly actually laid it's eggs on her and she wound up dying...a child's experiment gone terribly wrong. I was sad; for her, for me, and for the kids back at school whom I would have to give this terrible news. Of course, being kids, we recovered quickly from the loss and disappointment, but I did learn a lesson-leave the butterflies to hatch in the wild and enjoy them in each stage as I saw them!
Now, of course, there are kits so that you can have the pleasurable experience of hatching your own butterflies and there are many experts who breed butterflies and moths of all kinds. I just wanted to share a personal experience of mine in hopes that parents will help their child who wants to see the same thing I craved, only in the proper way. :).
From JoyN66 Nov 21 2012 8:48PM