Saturday, August 1, 2009

Raising Monarch Butterflies

It's been 9 years since our family first discovered the joy of raising Monarch butterflies. It all started in the summer of 2000 when I was reading an article in a "Family Fun" magazine, showing how families can have fun watching Monarch butterflies grow from the egg stage. All we needed to do were to hunt for these eggs growing on milkweed plants. And as luck would have it, we happened to have milkweed plants growing on our property.

I'm not sure how the milkweed plants made it onto our property, but I believe it may have something to do with the landscaping we did earlier in the Spring season, when my co-worker offered to landscape our front yard. He had owned some farmland in Barrie and was willing to transport some large rocks and stones to our place to create a Rock Garden for us and that's probably how the milkweed plant became a permanent fixture in our front lawn. Thus, a butterfly garden was born!

The first year we raised Monarchs was an absolute delight! We were utterly amazed to have witnessed both the spinning of the larvae (caterpillar) into a chrysalis as well as the emerging of the butterfly from the chrysalis. Over the years, we have shared this wonderful experience with family, friends and co-workers and except for the ones that were afraid of bugs, they too were enraptured by this miracle of nature. So, nine years later, we still have not tired of this wondrous activity and have recorded the stages again to be enjoyed for years to come.

Here's an adult butterfly looking for a good place to lay her eggs.

In the first week of egg-hunting, we found 5 eggs and 1 baby caterpillar on these milkweed leaves. Can you spot the 5 teeny tiny butterfly eggs?

Here's a close up of one baby bug and one unhatched egg.

Here are 2 older caterpillars chasing each other, after they have shedded their first layer of skin.

Here's a more grown up caterpillar hungrily munching on the milkweed plant. It's so much fun to watch them grow bigger and bigger each day and they are rather cute when they are nibbling away at the leaves, bobbing their little round heads with the springy antennae moving about.

When the caterpillars get all fat and juicy, they are ready to spin a sticky web on a sturdy spot and happily hang upside-down for the next 20 hours or so. If you time it right, you can catch one of these little guys perform the caterpillar dance as they wriggle out of their last piece of skin to reach the chrysalis stage.

As the day goes by, the chrysalis will become a shimmering green, studded with golden dots around the top and bottom of the chrysalis. It ends up looking like a beautiful piece of jade and gold precious gemstone.

Notice this chrysalis has pieces of tape stuck on either end of the stem from which it is hanging? That's because we had to perform a rescue operation to save it. What happened was that I had wanted to toss out the last of its poo and the partially-eaten leaf from the container when I noticed it was ready to hang upside down. What I didn't realize was that it had woven a web inside the lid in such a way that when I opened the lid, I inadvertently destroyed the webbing. I quickly replaced the lid but the damage was done. This poor caterpillar had to start all over again to re-attach itself to another spot. Unfortunately, it re-attached itself to a very low part of the leaf stem which was still inside the container which meant there would be no room for the chrysalis to form. Fortunately, both my hubby and Derek did a great job to delicately lift the stem up and taped it sturdily to the underside of the lid to allow for the proper transformation into a chrysalis. Phew!

By about the 10th day, the green chrysalis will turn very dark until it becomes black. At this point, the Monarch butterfly is just about ready to emerge.

When the butterfly first emerges from its chrysalis, the wings are still wet and tiny. The butterfly will hang in this position for a few hours to allow the wings to expand to its full size.

We like to keep the newly emerged butterflies in a fish tank for a day or two just to admire them for a bit before releasing them.

Here's Derek picking up one of them.

This is a male butterfly. You can tell it's a male by the thinner black stripes and the 2 black dots found on the 2 lower wings.

The second one is a female. Female Monarchs have thicker black stripes and no black dots.

The female butterfly didn't want to leave so fast and stayed around for awhile.

She must have been pretty thirsty as she stayed for quite some time taking in the nectar from a purple cone flower.

The male butterfly took off almost right away. Hmmm.... isn't it such a guy thing to do, to take off at the first possible chance! Can you see it flying off into the wild blue yonder just beyond the roof-top? Bye bye butterfly. Hope you have a safe journey flying to Mexico where you can breed more butterflies. We'll be looking forward to seeing the next generation flying back up to Canada to breed some more next summer.