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You are so lucky to live somewhere that has butterflies at this time of year! Tough call about what is best for them. If they are big they are probably about to form chrysalises. My experience is that they travel far from the milkweed to do this so you might not ever see them again. If you do bring them in, make sure they have plenty of food and plenty of room (as big a container as possible) to hatch in so that they can fully spread, flap, and dry their wings. In either case, enjoy them!
Yikes! That is really different milkweed from what I see in the Northeast. Definitely beautiful. If it's not too late, I would recommend bringing the caterpillars inside and keep them in a jar with plenty of fresh leaves. They eat a lot and poop a lot. My experience is that some don't make it but many more do than would outside in the wild. Good luck and lucky you.
It is amazing, isn't it? Twenty-some years of doing this, and I am still amazed at each butterfly emerging! It will never get old.
If they don't attach to the paper towel, they will often attach to leaves. If this happens, remove the leaf so that other caterpillars don't eat around the chrysalis and cause it to drop off. Clip the leaf to the edge of a jar. Often they will attach to the inside of a jar. This is a bit more complicated since you cannot (definitely should not) move them. Wait until the chrysalis starts darkening and then just put the entire jar outside.
Love it! For me this is some I look forward to every year. I have shared this with my child, niece, nephews, and anyone else who is interested.
Thank you. I have loved this process every year for so many years. Your video was great! It is easy to see how much they eat over the course of a day and night, but to see them in action, antennae and all, is very interesting.
That's awesome what you are doing! I am still waiting for Monarchs to arrive this summer (I am in the northeast). There is lots of milkweed and I find myself looking for eggs/little ones when I am out walking. I haven't ever calculated my 'success rate' (egg to butterfly) but I would like to think it is better than in the wild.
My sense is that lots of other critters eat the butterfly eggs. I would bring them in as soon as you see them. My experience with milkweed is in the NE where it grows wild. I have never seen a plant fully eaten down to stems so I cannot give advice on this. I would say that it is quite robust and forms perennial plots up here, so give it time and it should keep growing. Cannot remember comment about paper towels. Is it where they form their chrysalises? I think I have used a wide mouth canning jar with a paper towel as the cover. Sometimes they formed chrysalises on the paper towels which made it easy to transfer them to a butterfly tent/cage. I let them go almost immediately. They take a few hours to be able to fly and as soon as they can I let them go. Hope this helps. Good luck.