Raising Butterflies ~ Secret Confessions of a Monarch Killer

dead plant with dead butterfly

Raising butterflies is an awe-inspiring and rewarding experience. I've been doing it for over 25 years! Unfortunately, over those years I've made a few mistakes and some poor little monarchs have paid the ultimate price.

The purpose of this page is to share some of my failings in the hopes that you can avoid the same pitfalls of raising butterflies and have a happy and successful raising experience!

I'll discuss at least one costly mistake in each lifestage of the butterfly and I am hoping that you'll share some of your own accidents raising butterflies too. The more past tragedies we can list, the more future butterflies we can save!

Accidental Egg Killings:

  • I picked a milkweed leaf with an egg on top. I neglected to peak under the leaf as I plucked it and smashed a second egg with one of my fingers.
  • Monarchs don't usually lay eggs on milkweed stalks but I found one this summer and brought it inside. When I picked up the leaf to spray it the next day, I forgot the egg was on the stalk and smashed the egg with my thumb.
  • I've also smashed a couple eggs because I didn't see them after they turned dark(right before hatching). Check carefully before picking up a leaf.
  • Baby milkweed springs up on our lawn almost daily in the summer. Monarch females love laying eggs on these baby plants. Before I realized this, I don't even want to think about how many eggs I mowed down.

Accidental Caterpillar Killings:

the grim reaper from behind

  • I just realized last summer, that baby caterpillars (less than 3 days old) are small enough to crawl through the tiny mesh holes in the side of my caterpillar cage. Once you lose a caterpillar that small it will be nothing short of a miracle if you find it.
  • I have drowned a couple caterpillars. I always spray the milkweed with water because it stays fresh longer and the cats drink the water. However, if you leave any standing water in the cage/bowl it's like an ocean to the babies...and nobody has taught them how to cat paddle!
  • A freak accident occurred recently. The top of my cage has a zipper. One caterpillar was on the zipper inside. When I unzipped from the outside his little cat behind got caught in the zipper. He turned black and died a couple days later.
  • This is, by far, the stage where most of my lethal accidents have occurred.

Accidental Chrysalis Killings:

  • I felt so bad when this one happened. I decided to remove the chrysalis from where it hung because I wanted to move it outside for a little nature photo shoot.

    I tied some fishing line around the cremaster (the black string-like attachment at the top of the pupa) and then proceeded to pull the chrysalis off the ceiling. The cremaster slipped right through the fishing line and made a loud "thud" on the floor.

    The sad part was the chrysalis would have hatched the next day. Once I realized the monarch was dead, I opened the chrysalis. The butterfly was fully formed but there was a lot of "fluid" in the chrysalis too. I suspect he might have drowned.

  • In all my years raising butterflies, this is the first and only monarch that has died during this stage of metamorphosis.

Accidental Butterfly Killings:

dead butterfly lying upside down

  • This is the most tragic death of all when rearing butterflies. It's sad to nurture your butterfly all the way to his glorious adult stage only to have all your hard work go up in smoke.

    I hang my chrysalides up on the kitchen ceiling so I can view them each morning to see "who's gonna hatch today" and maybe catch a live hatching while sipping my morning coffee.

    One morning, a butterfly hatched and I left him up to dry his wings while I ran some errands. When I returned home he was submerged in the kitchen sink....that had been left full of dirty dish water.

  • Also, if you have pets, a monarch butterfly is not built for a roughhouse session with Rover or Felix. Be vigilant or be very disappointed. I choose the former!

I hope my sad lessons will shed some light on a few precautions to consider when raising butterflies. An ounce of prevention equals another butterfly that will survive to make the world a more beautiful place.

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