Several years ago my husband and I were looking for a volunteer opportunity. The Friends club of the local State Park announced their meeting night in the paper. We attended and became members. One of the members was the Butterfly Lady. Not only was she a master gardener, she was very passionate about her Monarch butterflies.
Annually the club has a "native plant" sale. Loretta strongly urged us to plant some milk weed, which is where the Monarch lays her eggs.
For several years, we watched the Monarchs and the caterpillars. Some grew up and some became part of the food chain.
This year we started watching for the eggs. Finally one day we thought we had found a Monarch egg. Loretta came over and informed us that what we had found was not a Monarch egg. She generously furnished us with a book to read up on the Monarch. She, also, showed us an egg so we could recognize it.
A few days later, we not only found an egg, but several caterpillars. We called Loretta and said do we leave them on the plants or bring them to you. Loretta said, "Uh, the worst thing you can do is leave them in the wild. Their survival rate is only 10%. Why don't you raise them?" I think I just heard the trap door slam shut. That is how our butterfly farm started.
Step 1: Monarch Butterfly Farm
Since we were not expecting to start raising butterflies, we were not really ready, We had some empty ice cream pails and that is where we set up our first crop. We found that it was really hard to see what was going on, so we did some more reading and used the following materials to set things set up.
Clear plastic 18 ounce cups
Milk weed plants
Tulle or some gauzy material cut into 6 inch squares
This is a very inexpensive project and very interesting to children and adults alike. Since I only had to buy the cups and rubber bands, the cost was under $5.00
Step 2: Monarch Butterfly Farm
There are 4 different types of milkweed. The common milkweed in the midwest is the Asclepias Syriaca, it has a large leaf and can be aggressive. The Texas milkweed is an annual in the midwest. The A. Sulivantii is a well behaved common milkweed with a small leaf. The A. incarnate is the swamp milkweed and has a small leaf. The milkweed needs a sunny location.
After you have established your milkweed patch, it is time to start looking for the eggs and the caterpillars. The first picture is the first one we thought was a Monarch egg, it is not a Monarch. The second picture is of a Monarch egg. It is about the size of a pin head, and has a conical shape.
The caterpillar is white with alternating yellow and black stripes. The above picture is a caterpillar probably 4 days old. I took a picture of one right after it hatched, but it is so small it would not show up even with magnification.
Step 3: Monarch Butterfly Farm
Each day you need to check the milkweed plants for eggs and caterpillars. I place the eggs in an ice cream pail until they hatch. Each day fresh leaves must be added so when the egg hatches it will have fresh food. After they hatch I move them to another pail until they are about the size of the one on the leaf.
Each caterpillar is then placed on a leaf on the 6 inch cloth. The size of the cloth makes it possible for one person to add food and clean the cloth. By stretching the rubber band over one hand, you can slide the band around the cup top. When you take the rubber band off, take it off over the small end of the cup. Otherwise, you can give the poor caterpillar a rough ride. Experience speaking.
The cloth on the cup must be cleaned of the frass, caterpillar "poop" , it is easy to shake it free of the cloth. The larger the caterpillar, the bigger the frass.
Fresh food must be added as needed, as caterpillars can double their size each day. I usually check mine 2 or 3 times a day.
Each cup is placed on the clean plant tray. As the tray fills up you can add a new tray. This way, many butterflies can be raised in a small area.
It is important that the caterpillars are not placed in direct sunlight. They can overheat. They also will go straight for the light and starve instead of eating.
Step 4: Monarch Butterfly Farm
After 10 to 14 days the caterpillar will head up to the top of the cup and put some "glue" on the top of the cup. It then forms into the J hook. The caterpillar will stay this way for a couple of days and then turn into a chrysalis. The chrylasis is a light green with gold. It stays in this stage for 10-14 days. Just before the butterfly emerges, the chrysalis becomes clear. The wings and body of the butterfly can be seen through the chrysalis. It looks like it is turning black. The first time I saw it in the wild, I thought the butterfly had died.
Step 5: Monarch Butterfly Farm
When the butterflies emerge from the chrysalis, the wings are crumpled up. They need about 3 hours for their wings to dry and expand. If for some reason they fail to stay attached to the top of the cup and fall into the liquid that is expelled when the chrysalis opens, their wings will not fully extend and they can not fly. The butterfly on the flowers had a problem and we kept him for a few days.
Sometimes the butterfly leaves immediately and sometimes it will stay on your fingers for a few seconds. Our grandson was there when we released our first two butterflies. Unfortunately, they flew right away. He was able to hold the injured butterfly. I think he is the reason our son is planning to plant milkweed next year. Our neighbors also came over and took a video of a release.
So far we have released about 11 butterflies and have the potential of releasing about 23 more. Of course our mentor has the potential of releasing over 200. She states her friend has raised over 600 this year. That lady raises hers in a tent.
I am planning on putting this instructable in the outdoors contest.