Monarch Butterfly – egg to adult

For those who love the Monarch butterfly, the loss of winter habitat and the drought along their migratory path has caused concern and alarm. We have raised many caterpillars in the past, for we let milkweed grow just to have a food source for them, but last year we saw no butterflies or eggs – at all. We were disheartened.

This year, hope revived! My daughter was out checking the plants for eggs or caterpillars and she found one! In fact, we now have 7, but this is the story of that one.


My teenage daughter came inside all excited because she found a monarch caterpillar egg on a milkweed plant, and I was equally thrilled! If you have never looked for caterpillar eggs you may not realize what an accomplishment that is, even on years when we do have butterflies. I don’t have a picture of a monarch egg of my own (camera can’t focus close enough for you to see such a tiny thing) but here is one I found:

Monarch Butterfly Egg

We pulled up the entire plant (it was a tiny plant) end put it in a tiny vase on our windowsill.


The egg has darkened, which means it will be hatching soon. If my camera could zoom that close it would look like this.

JULY 12 – day 1

It’s out! I had to look very closely on a very tiny plant, but I found it. Problem is, my camera can only focus so close, so here is the progression of my pictures on that first photo shoot.

The tiny plant in the tiny vase and the barely visible baby caterpillar on the underside of the left leaf – the barest apostrophe. [Click on the image for a very large view.]

“Close-up” of baby. Underside of left leaf, but not the dark spot on the center vein, but just above it. Tiny. [Click on image for much larger view]

JULY 14 – day 3

How much it has grown in 2 days!

Looked for the baby this morning and couldn’t find it! I finally found it hiding inside the two top leaves where it would be safest place to sleep without discovery and being eaten, then moving out during the day.

JULY 16 – day 5

The caterpillar is growing! Will have to transfer to another plant soon.

Even this morning the little one was hiding between the two top leaves, but now is eating them.

A friend commented on the mess and difficulty of raising them. Hmm. Let me share our method.


1. Pull up a whole plant when you need one (younger ones are better).
2.Check it thoroughly for spiders (who will easily kill and eat the little caterpillars). Look in the very top leaves and remove the flowers and and pods that are growing because those are common areas where they lurk.
3. IMMEDIATELY put it in a vase of water. At first they wilt but usually recover in about 12 hours, so don’t panic. (I may have stumbled into a way to prevent the initial wilting, but not saying anything until I am sure.) This way you can go for quite a long time before having to move them.
4. Have a dedicated table with a table cloth to catch the pebbles (and sweep the floor every day when they get bigger). When they are larger transferring them between plants is not too bad and you can have several on one plant.
5. When they get big and ready to pupate watch them very carefully because they get restless and WILL wander off to all kinds of odd places (we have found them under tables) and then you don’t know when they come out and they can get stuck in the house without you knowing.

BTW, we DON”T put them in a cage, but just leave the vases with the plants and the little ones on a table.

* * * * * * * * *

Having said all that, I better find a table to clear for putting the vases and a table I can dedicate to the growing number of vases – and an old white sheet to catch the ever larger caterpillar “pebbles.” We have used our basement in the past, but our guest room got cleaned up so I am thinking of putting them in there this year. It could also (hopefully) protect them from a curious cat…

July 17 – Day 6

7/17/14 – At 6 days old, caterpillar is about ready to be moved off his tiny plant to a larger one.

Monarch butterflies are  why we permit milkweed to invade our garden and flower beds (BTW, did you know how wonderful the flowers smell? Oh…!). One year we raised between 30 and 40 butterflies – we kind of lost track. We were really ambitious that year. As desperate as the situation is for the butterflies, and the very high mortality rate for caterpillars in the wild, we will probably not limit ourselves.

July 22 – Day 11

Missed a few days – my how it has grown! We have moved it to a new plant. We also have other caterpillars (you can see one in the foreground – blurry).

July 24 – Day 13

Woke up this morning to discover it had eaten its plant down to a stem – glad it didn’t crawl off in search of a new food source! Now it is on the new plant.

To give you an idea how big it is, now, here is a larger picture of of it on the plant.

These are all the plants with our 10 caterpillars. The First One is on the plant to the far right. We have had to use the guest room for their protection (we had a friend stay in the room recently, but he doesn’t mind them), but the cat already sneaked in one morning and knocked off a caterpillar. Now she haunts the door and begs to be let in. Yeah, right! The old towels and such catch most of the pebbles (we sweep the floor daily for the others). When we clean the pebbles we carefully remove the cloths from below, shake them vigorously out a window (beating it on the siding) and replace them. As they get larger this must be done more often.




3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Raising Monarch Butterflies | Lloyd's of Rochester - an Eclectic blog
  2. Diane dudley
    Aug 05, 2017 @ 13:08:44

    We goofed! Have never tried to start with the egg although always successful with caterpillars. We picked the leaf instead of the plant! Do we move the egg to fresh plant now?


    • Lloyd's of Rochester
      Aug 31, 2017 @ 19:19:02

      Sorry for the delay. Hope it wasn’t fatal! You can move them. When they are little we use toothpicks and a lot of patience, when larger we have them crawl on our fingers. You can also just urge them onto a fresh plant from the leaf.


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