04/19/2012: Yippee!! Some of the first milkweed of the season poking its head through the ground. It's a bit earlier than usual since we had such a mild winter. I look forward to this time of year so much! I plan on doing another presentation on raising butterflies at the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge on August 22, 2012. I hope to have all stages of development with me. Last year was so much fun! I was told that my presentation got the highest number of visitors out of all the open houses last year.
Milkweed is the only thing that the monarch caterpillar can eat. The female seeks out milkweed to lay her eggs. The eggs then hatch and the caterpillars feed on it until they are ready to transform into a chrysalis. It takes 3-6 days for the egg to hatch, 7 to 10 days for the caterpillar to get to full size, and another 7-10 days for it to form into a full grown butterfly inside of the chrysalis.
05/04/2012: I saw my first Monarch of the season on May 3rd and she was laying eggs. Unheard of for them to be in the area this early! I went out on the 4th and there was another one laying eggs but my dog scared her off. I began gathering eggs by digging up some of the tiny milkweed plants and putting them in a pot. I counted 22 eggs on these 6 plants and I have another larger plant that I uprooted with 4 more eggs on it for a total of 26 eggs. I'm not even close to being done gathering this first batch of eggs! These eggs will begin to hatch in 3-6 days. They hatch and then they begin to eat the milkweed leaves that they hatch on. As they grow they eat faster and faster!
Fact: Each female can lay 100 or more eggs at a time!
05/06/2012: I have a grand total of 47 eggs to start off the season! I realized that I haven't ever really posted a photo of where I keep the eggs and caterpillars while I'm raising them! Below is a photo of one of my aquariums that I use. I have around 10 or so aquariums of various sizes and some other smaller plastic containers. The aquariums have screen tops and this is usually where the caterpillars form their chrysalis'. The milkweed is usually much larger than the ones you see here. In fact, the first batch of eggs isn't usually laid until the milkweed has flower buds on it and is a couple of feet tall. I do have some worries about being able to feed all of the caterpillars so soon!
05/09/2012: We have babies!! All of the eggs are hatching today. Below is a photo of the very first one of the season. I usually follow only one of them along on their journey, even though I raise many more! I just went out in the yard to get some fresh leaves and see that there are more eggs waiting to be harvested. The reason I don't leave them out in the garden is because over 90% of them die out in the wild. If you plan on looking for eggs or babies on your milkweed, please use a magnifying glass or you may miss them. As you can see they are so tiny! I've included a grain of rice as usual so that you can see just how tiny they are. Beside the caterpillar what is left of his egg. They hatch and then he will eat the shell and continue on and start eating the milkweed. They must have a continuous supply throughout their life. The bigger they get, the more they eat!
05/10/2012: At this point I'm overwhelmed with the amount of eggs in the yard. At last count I have at least 150 of them! There are more in the yard but I will leave some because if I pick all of the milkweed I won't have anything to feed them as they hatch. We usually don't see this many eggs because the milkweed is usually much larger and they are spread out over a large area. Every milkweed that is coming up in my yard has eggs all over it! I am pulling up tiny milkweed and this year I went out and bought a window box and put the tiny milkweed in there to try and keep it alive until the babies hatch.
05/17/2012: Some of you have asked for specifics on feeding the babies once they hatch. I have mine in aquariums, as shown above. I put newspaper on the bottom and then I add fresh milkweed leaves when needed. When I harvest the leaves I make sure there are no eggs on them. This is a difficult task this year! To raise Monarchs you must have a supply of fresh milkweed since it is the only thing they can eat. Below is "Slinky" and he/she is now 8 days old. You can't tell whether they are male or female until they form their chrysalis. Growth is a bit behind this season and I believe it is due to the weather. Normally after 8 days they would be ready to form their chrysalis and as you can see, Slinky is barely larger than the grain of rice.
05/20/2012: Some of the caterpillars on milkweed leaves.