Tag Archives: caterpillar

Small but Mighty

It’s that season again! You may be noticing small flashes of orange whiz past as you drive, or wings fluttering outside your living room window.  The monarch butterfly migration is in its earliest stages! All summer long, monarchs have been munching away on their favorite milkweed snack, and growing as fast as ever. Check out the clip below:

It only takes about a month for the Monarch to go through its entire metamorphosis and bring the next generation into the world. These beautiful insects live 2-5 weeks while enjoying the summer season and continuing their genetic line. Incredibly, this cycle can occur about three times throughout the summer! On the fourth generation, however, something spectacular takes place. The Monarch eggs laid in late August and September are destined for something much more magnificent than their three previous generations.

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A chrysalis only moments before it emerged. The orange and black pigmentation is the last stage of development during the pupal stage.

Our fourth generation monarchs are the migrators. We will be seeing these guys as caterpillars and butterflies in the upcoming weeks. These monarchs will develop into physically and behaviorally different insects than their parents and grandparents. Born with an underdeveloped reproductive systems, these little guys were created to channel all of their energy into one thing: flight. Weighing only one half of a gram, these mighty flyers fuel up on nectar for their migration to Mexico for the winter. The 2,000-3,000 mile journey is extremely dangerous and monarchs are at risk from large storm events and lack of feeding and breeding habitat.  Only a small percentage of monarchs will make it to their destination. The lucky survivors arrive in just in time for the Mexican Holiday, Day of the Dead, where it’s believe monarchs are the souls of loved ones that return each year. 

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You can identify this monarch as a female by the lack of black patches on the hind wing.

After taking shelter in the Oyamel Fir forests in the Transvolcanic Mountains of central Mexico, the monarchs begin their journey north in March, now fully mature. During their journey, they will reproduce and eventually die, having lived up to nine times longer than the first three generations. In addition to being an iconic species, the monarchs play a vital role in our ecosystems, supporting plant and wildlife biodiversity. Unfortunately, monarch populations have declined by 90 percent in the last 20 years. We can help by planting milkweed, reducing our pesticide use and spreading the word about these small but mighty butterflies! Over the next several weeks, I’ll be sharing stories about what we’re doing to help with our partners and how you can also help this iconic species.

In the meantime, to learn more about the plight of the monarch and what you can do to help, visit our Save the Monarch page!

Growing up growing monarchs: A family guide

Today, we’re hearing from Katie Hone, a homeowner from Ipswich, Massachusetts that used a grant from Parker River National Wildlife Refuge to convert her waterfront home into a woodland oasis, dotted with native shade gardens, monarch butterfly way stations, and a setting where her two young children can have close encounters with nature. The grant is part of the refuge’s award-winning Slow the Flow campaign, which engages the local community to conserve water, reduce invasive plants, promote backyard wildlife habitat, and prevent nutrients and pollution from entering the Plum Island Estuary. 

We’re sharing a post from Katie’s blog; get some some pointers on how to raise monarch butterflies, familiar orange-and-black insects, admired for their flights of up to 5,000 miles a year, which are currently making their way south during fall migration. If you missed the fun this time around, find out how you can help next year! 

There have been fewer things so magical in my recent life as a mom than having raised monarch caterpillars with my two girls. Over the last three summers we have released at least fifty and every time one emerges from its chrysalis it’s just as exciting as the very first time. We’ve even been known to eat breakfast with a critter cage full of chrysalises as a centerpiece knowing one could come out at any time.

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It’s easy to raise monarchs with your family, put this step-by-step tutorial in your back pocket for next summer since all the monarchs now are speeding their way to Mexico to spend the winter:

1) Find an egg or caterpillar. Easiest way to do this is find a patch of milkweed, or even better, create a monarch way station in your yard and hopefully the monarch females will come to you!

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Checking milkweed for eggs at Sally Pond in Ipswich, Massachusetts

2) Look on the underside of the milkweed leaves for the tiny creamy white/yellowish eggs, monarch mommas usually choose the newest leaves at the top. The eggs are about twice the size of the period at the end of this sentence.

3) Clip the top part of the plant containing the egg, or caterpillar, bring it home and stick it in a cup of water. I find a hummus container or take-out soup container works well. I cut a small hole in the container lid so the plant stands up and the caterpillar can’t fall in the water. Then place the whole cup and plant in a large jar, small aquarium or plastic bin with a top so the caterpillars don’t wander all over your house when they’re looking for a spot to make their chrysalis.

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A 12-day-old caterpillar

4) The egg will hatch in 3-4 days and then you have a beautiful caterpillar that will grow at an incredible rate. If human newborns grew as fast, and big, as monarch caterpillars they would be the size of a school bus in 14 days! Your kids will marvel over the amount of caterpillar poo (called frass) one caterpillar can make!

5) Keep your monarch caterpillar supplied with fresh milkweed for around 14 days and you will be rewarded with a beautiful chrysalis. The caterpillar then dissolves within its new house and reforms as a butterfly in about another 14 days.

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Monarch chrysalises

6) If you’re lucky you’ll get to see your butterfly emerge. Let its wings dry for a few hours or even a whole day before you release it.  It won’t need nectar right away. We even tag our fall emerging monarchs with a tiny sticker that contains an ID number and email address. Anyone that finds it along its migration south to Mexico can report the butterfly to theMonarch Watch tagging program. Even my 4 and 6-year-olds can put the tags on! (right)

Raising monarch butterflies is definitely something every kid should experience in their childhood. And with the population being down 90 percent, every female adult butterfly released is another one that can lay up to 300 eggs to help bring this species back from the brink. So plant some milkweed early next spring, look for some eggs and have fun!

Continue to follow Katie’s journey helping monarchs and other pollinators>>