This year we had the chance to collect a few monarch caterpillars to raise on our porch. In years past we hadn’t had the opportunity, probably because we didn’t have enough milkweed. So we were very excited to be raising our first monarchs. We wanted to share a few tips we learned both from doing this ourselves and talking and reading about others who have also decided to raise monarchs from their pollinator gardens.
1. Make sure you have a good spot to keep them
A small butterfly raising net cage works great for amateur monarch enthusiasts. We had a very large fish bowl that we used. It was large enough to house one monarch caterpillar at a time. We kept our caterpillars on our screened porch so that they were safe but also had the benefit of being outdoors. The other benefit our large fish bowl had was the ability to disinfect it easily between our caterpillar guests. Cleanliness is important because there are parasites that can harm the monarch population. You want to be sure you’re not helping to spread disease in the monarch population.
2. Make sure you have enough milkweed to feed them
Monarch caterpillars only eat milkweed, so you want to be sure you have a large enough supply to keep your caterpillars well fed until they pupate. You will need to refresh the milkweed in your caterpillar’s home every one to two days. If you don’t have a lot of milkweed growing in your garden, you might want to consider scouting out some additional food for your monarch caterpillars. You might have a neighbor or a local park with a little milkweed to spare. Or you can also check in with your local native plant groups to see where you might be able to purchase more milkweed plants.
3. Don’t take on more than you can handle
An important thing to remember is to not take on more than you can handle when raising monarchs. If you have a lot of other responsibilities, don’t add feeding and cleaning up after caterpillars to your list! Just enjoy watching them utilizing your garden! Your caterpillars will need at least a daily check-in (change out milkweed, clean out the container of poo, etc). The monarch population has enough of an uphill battle without us trapping and neglecting them.
4. Find good (reputable) resources for help
Before you start on the journey of raising a monarch caterpillar, do some research with some reputable organizations. Some of our favorites are the Xerces Society, Monarch Watch.org, The Monarch Joint Venture, or state departments of natural resources. There are also many entomologists on Twitter that are great resources for information and are usually happy to point you in the right direction for more info.
5. Remember that nature can sometimes be cruel
One thing to remember if you’re bringing in a monarch caterpillar to raise to show your children is that sometimes, nature can be cruel. Not every monarch caterpillar’s story will end in a release of a beautiful monarch butterfly. There can be some complications along the way and you might have to have some tough conversations if things don’t go well. While this can all be part of the lesson, it was very sad even for us (two adults) when our caterpillar failed to thrive or didn’t pupate fully.