Start Raising Monarchs!

You are loved.   Be gentle with yourself.   Give yourself grace.
You are loved.   Be gentle with yourself.   Give yourself grace.
You are loved.   Be gentle with yourself.   Give yourself grace.
You are loved.   Be gentle with yourself.   Give yourself grace.
You are loved.   Be gentle with yourself.   Give yourself grace.

Raising Monarch caterpillars is easier than you think and so fun! You have little buddies to talk to - if you're the type - and in the end you get to hold a butterfly!

  • Spending peaceful time in nature and with caterpillars & butterflies
  • Have something to nurture
  • Butterflies are a lovely symbol of the beauty of change
  • No electronic devices required
  • Helpful to the planet
Tools Required
  • Milkweed
  • Small containers for small caterpillars
  • Big containers for big caterpillars
  • Mesh enclosure for the chrysalides and butterflies
  • Other random things you have around the house
  • I buy my raising supplies from Tony at Monarch Butterfly Garden
  • Easy Peasy!
  • There is a level of commitment!  The caterpillars eat all day and all night!
  • Egg to Chrysalis is about 2 weeks, then they are in the chrysalis 7-10 days!
If you’ve read my “Why the Butterfly” post {link here} then you know that the butterfly has special meaning in my life.  The more that I learned about butterflies, the more I fell in love the with Monarch.
They make this amazing journey to Mexico!  It is a crazy migration.  {Check out “Wings of Life” on Disney Nature}  Then I learned that I could raise them… and well, that was it.  I was totally hooked!
I was obviously missing my baby, and taking care of Monarch caterpillars was a nice way to nurture something.  It gave me peace to know that I was helping the earth and it has been even more rewarding to share this hobby with so many people!

Watching a caterpillar turn into a chrysalis and then watching the butterfly emerge from that chrysalis will amaze you and those around you.

Here are the basics!

Common, Swamp, Tropical, Butterfly Weed

Grow Some Milkweed!

The one thing you MUST have access to is milkweed!  Monarch caterpillars ONLY EAT MILKWEED.  They will eat all kinds of milkweed.  I have a lot of Swamp Milkweed (because they tend to lay lots of eggs on it!).  I also have Tropical Milkweed, Common Milkweed, Showy Milkweed and Butterfly Weed in my yard.

  • Swamp Milkweed – Perennial, not invasive, smaller leaves, grows back any time you cut it, preferred place for Monarchs to lay eggs.  Can be grown in pots.
  • Tropical Milkweed – Annual, not invasive, smaller leaves, grows back any time you cut it, also preferred place for Monarchs to lay eggs.  Can be grown in pots.
  • Common Milkweed – This is what you see everywhere: parks, side of road, etc, etc.  Perennial, invasive so be careful!, large leaves, does NOT grow back after you cut it, my preferred food for the large caterpillars.
  • Butterfly Weed – Perennial, not invasive, half the height of other milkweeds, much to my disbelief Monarchs do lay eggs on it!
  • There are many other kinds to explore!
  • Often I will find a place nearby that has ‘public’ milkweed in case I run out in my yard or need some extra food for my caterpillars! **BE SURE these locations don’t use pesticides!
  • Milkweed sap is toxic!  Take care when handling the leaves.  As a rule I don’t handle the caterpillars.
Let’s go hunting!

Find Monarch eggs!

People always ask me where I get my caterpillars from!  They are usually surprised when I say “From my yard!”  If you plant milkweed the female Monarchs will come and lay eggs!  You just have to check every day.

  • Monarchs lay the eggs ONE at a time.  You will not find any clusters of eggs.
  • Eggs are well attached and look a bit like a football.
  • They are a cream color.
  • She hides them!  Places you can find eggs:
    • On the underside of leaves
    • In and amongst the buds of the flowers
    • On the stem of the plant
    • You may be surprised at how far down the plant she’ll lay eggs
    • On the newest growth of the plant
  • After you find an egg just remove the entire leaf from the plant.
  • Then rinse the leaf to rid it of predators (no the egg won’t fall off)
  • Put it in a small plastic container lined with paper towel
  • It will hatch in about 5 days
Munch, munch

Week one of caterpillar life!

I leave the caterpillars in the plastic containers until they are about an inch long.  I’m always worried that if I put those teeny tiny guys in the big cube I’ll never find them again!  Sometimes the very little babies will try to get out of the container – they just need a reminder they should be on a leaf!

  • Keep the leaf with the egg on it moist
  • Keep the eggs separate from the caterpillars… otherwise they’ll get eaten!
  • The egg will turn blackish just before the caterpillar hatches
  • The first thing the caterpillar eats is the egg
  • Then it will start eating the milkweed
  • Change the paper towel at the bottom of the container daily (so much poop!)
  • If the caterpillar is on an old, yucky leaf just cut around the caterpillar and place it on the new leaf.
  • Don’t handle the caterpillars
yep, just like snakes


Caterpillars go through 5 “instar” stages.  As they grow into each stage they must shed their skin.  They often walk away from the milkweed and find a spot to sit for a day or so.  Their black head cap falls down and they stay very still.  Then when they are ready, they walk right out of their skin.  Then they turn around and eat their skin.  tada!  After that’s done they got back to the milkweed and keep on munching!

So much poop

Week two of caterpillar life!

It is insane how quickly they grow.  At this point I put them in my cube.  I use flower tubes to house the milkweed leaves.  Since the common milkweed stem is super short I cut the leaves along the stem so that more of the stem can go into the water.  I really love having a ‘poo poo platter’ because it makes cleaning out the poop so much easier!

  • Move them to a mesh container or a bigger plastic container
  • Make sure they have enough milkweed
  • Mist the mesh container here and there to make sure things don’t dry out from being indoors.
  • Sometimes these silly caterpillars will fight each other for milkweed – EVEN if there’s plenty of milkweed in the enclosure. I just put them in ‘timeout’ (separate them onto different leaves or put one in another enclosure.)
Let’s hang

The “J”

After the caterpillar is ‘full’ it will start moving around to look for a location to “J”.  Once it finds a suitable location it will spin silk in preparation for hanging.  They usually spin a large circle with a radius of up to 4 inches.  Then they’ll attach their butts to the center of the circle and hang in a “J” to prepare for changing into their chrysalis.

  • They “J” wherever they want
  • They like zippers!  So make sure your zipper pulls are in the middle of the opening – then you can at least get one side down!
  • If the cage is tapped they will curl up in their “J” – this is okay, just a defence
  • Don’t touch or move a caterpillar in “J”
  • If they are in a “J” on a leaf where other caterpillars are eating you can carefully remove the other caterpillars and isolate the “J” caterpillar if possible.
  • Occasionally when I have a bunch of caterpillars going into “J” at once they will sometimes bug each other.  One caterpillar looking for the perfect spot may try to climb on a “J” or a chrysalis.  I just watch and relocate if needed.
I’m fancy

The Chrysalis

After about a day or two in “J” the caterpillar will transform into the chrysalis.  It’s really more like they shed their skin one final time and reveal the chrysalis below!  It is an amazing process to watch! (I vow to take better chrysalis pictures this summer.)

  • The “J” caterpillar will start to straighten out and you’ll see the antennae go straight and start to twist.
  • When the process begins they sort of ‘zipper’ out of the skin and then spin a bunch of times!  It’s crazy how much it spins.  This process makes sure that the cremaster (Black tip thingy) is really stuck in the silk.
  • Sometimes the skin falls off and other times it doesn’t.  Don’t worry if it stays at the top, it will be fine!
  • At first it looks like the ghost from Ghostbusters and then after a few hours it becomes the shape pictured to the left.  The first couple days are crucial because the chrysalis hasn’t hardened and if touched or dropped the pupa can be damaged.
  • The gold detail is truly astonishing.
You can do it

Moving the Chrysalis

The majority of the time those cute little caterpillars choose the most annoying place for their chrysalis!  I was freaking out the first time I moved one, but then I realized that it wasn’t that hard!  I am still not “sold” on the way I hang them up, there are a lot of different ways to do it.

  • WAIT 2 – 3 days after the chrysalis was made.  It is very soft in those first few days.  It is “safe” to handle after it hardens.
  • They spin silk to attach the chrysalis – sometimes it’s as much as 5 inches in diameter!
  • Put down a towel or something soft in case the chrysalis falls or your drop it.  Falling can damage the chrysalis.
  • Spritz the spun silk to help release it.
  • Very carefully PULL THE SILK.  Try not to touch or pull on the black cremaster.  I use a tweezers and grab the white silk above the black cremaster.
  • Straighten the silk so that it is in a strand.
  • Put the silk onto a piece of masking tape and fold the tape over, encasing the silk.
  • Trim the masking tape and you can also write the date she/he went into the chrysalis.
  • Use a safety pin to attach the chrysalis to the top of your cage.
  • Note: You can touch the chrysalis, but do it minimally.  Make sure there are no cleaning solvents or any chemicals at all on your hands.
It’s called Eclosing

Emerging from the Chrysalis

This is the best part!  The butterfly will stay in the chrysalis for 10-14 days.  I often write down the date they go into the chrysalis so I have an idea of when they’ll come out.  A day or so before they come out, the chrysalis turns clear revealing the black wings of the Monarch.  It can be hard to catch at first, but eventually you’ll get to see it happen!

  • Watch for the chrysalis to turn clear – you’ll see the black wings.
  • When the butterfly emerges it has all of its fluid in its body.  It need to pump the fluid into the wings to make them inflate.  This requires gravity.
  • The butterfly MUST HANG from the chrysalis or the top of the mesh enclosure for this process to complete.
  • Occasionally a butterfly will fall, do your best to help them up if you can!
  • It takes about 4 hours for their wings to dry.  You’ll see them move off of the chrysalis when they are ready.  They’ll also start to open and close their wings.
  • Release them within 24 hours – they don’t need to eat immediately so they will be fine.
  • Try not to release them any earlier than 6 hours.
  • Sometimes I think they’re ready and they don’t want to leave, then the next day they fly off.  It just depends!

Click the tabs if you want to know more!

All milkweed has white sap that is toxic. It comes out any time you cut the plant or rip a leaf. It is especially harmful if some gets in your eye.
I don't wear gloves, but I'm mindful of how I'm clipping leaves and what I'm touching. I always wash my hands after handling the leaves. As a general rule I never handle the caterpillars.
Just to be on the safe side I don't let my daughter touch the leaves or caterpillars. I've actually never heard of anyone having a problem (I'm in a lot of facebook groups.) but I still think it's important to be cautious.
This organization does a TON to help the Monarchs. They fund research efforts and conservation. Click anywhere in this box to go to their website.
This is where you can get tagging supplies to tag the migratory Monarchs. It helps them track the migration. It is fun to check their website to see where the Monarchs are as they are heading back to the US from Mexico.
You can also register your garden as a "Monarch Waystation" through Monarch Watch. It's not hard to do and you get a fancy certificate and sign!
Monarch caterpillars are extremely sensitive to chemicals. If the milkweed has any kind of pesticide on it the caterpillars will start puking up green stuff. If you clean around their cages and accidentally spray them they could die. I always wash my hands before getting their leaves or cleaning their containers.
They are even sensitive to the flea treatments we put on our pets. If you pet your dog and then handle milkweed that could put them in jeopardy.
If they were exposed to some kind of chemical or pesticide they usually start puking up green. If you see them doing this then immediately rinse them under the faucet. I usually put gloves on and hold them gently. Let the water run over them (but not pool!) so they don't drown. Then gently dry them off and isolate them in their own container. Give them new milkweed that you are SURE has no chemicals. This has worked for me many times!
Swallowtails are beautiful and amazing butterflies as well! You'll see pictures of them all over this site - yellow and black ones and also all black ones. They don't migrate, they overwinter!
Yep, that's right. They make a chrysalis that looks like a twig or leaf and then they stay in there ALL WINTER. (This is why you shouldn't rake your leaves!)
Raising Swallowtails is fun too! They are different than Monarchs so do a little research if you want to get started. They love dill, fennel and parsley. Even though I don't raise them inside I have all of those plants in my garden for them!