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Why do you do this?

This is my most frequently asked question that does not start with "how?".  There is no one reason why I do this.  I do this because I have a scientific mind but not a scientific degree.  I do it because I love being part of a beautiful process.  I do it because I have 3 children who started out being afraid of insects (even butterflies) and I wanted them to see how amazing insects are.  I do it because I seem to be good at it.  I do it because it brings joy to people.  I also do it because I am compelled to do it.

Where do you keep all these eggs and caterpillars and butterflies?

I live in a 2 story condo/townhouse with my husband, 3 kids, and 2 cats.  We don't have much extra room so I use the bar section of our large kitchen counter.  During the rest of the year it is a catch-all for miscellaneous junk so we really aren't losing any useful space.  I use the guest bathroom that is off our dining area to keep the ready-to-hatch chrysalises in since there is a door to keep the cats away.  Yes, it looks "messy" in my kitchen, but I really don't cook much and since its only for a short time every year my family puts up with it ;-)

How much time does it take to care for so many caterpillars?

Here is a look at my typical day once I have acquired more than a few eggs/caterpillars: 

6:00 a.m. Get up 45 minutes earlier than usual in order to clean cages and feed, inspect leaves for eggs, etc.

8:30 a.m.  Go to work

11:00 a.m.  Text daughter for update on how they are doing, pester her to give them new leaves.

3:00 p.m.  Come home, spend 1 hr. cleaning cages, moving them up to larger cages, tending to clippings.

4:00 p.m.  Go outside and gather fresh milkweed leaves, wash, dry, and bag them.

5:30 p.m.  Check cages again, add more of the leaves I just gathered.

8:00 p.m.  Clean cages again & feed fresh leaves to the big ones.

9:00 p.m.  Remember to eat my own food

11:00 p.m.  Clean cages again & feed fresh leaves to the big ones.  Check for babies before going to bed at midnight or later.

Repeat next day.

I planted milkweed/let milkweed grow, but why don't I see any butterflies?

Monarchs only lay eggs on milkweed, and when they do you probably aren't looking.  Remember that only 1 in 20 eggs will survive as a caterpillar into an adult so the odds of seeing them are slim.  To increase your odds, plant flowers that butterflies are attracted to for the nectar, like coneflower (echinacea), butterfly bush, and bee balm.  Here is a list of pollinator attracting blooms:

My caterpillar is just sitting there for a long time.  Is it dead?

If it is upright, meaning not tipped over, then no it is probably just resting either before or after a molt.  They also will rest for seemingly no reason (who knows what is going on in that mushy little body!).  If you gently tap their behind and they do not move other than a small twitch, they are probably preparing to molt.  Do not continue disturbing them at this point.  If they start walking when you gently tap them then it is ok to move them.  

My chrysalis has tiny black spots on it that don't come off.  Is it diseased?

Maybe.  If the chrysalis is handled while it is still green, the cuticle (outer casing) can get tiny tears in it and the insect's hemolymph (basically blood) will leak out clear and dry black.  It will probably be ok as long as not a lot of hemolymph leaked out.  It's similar to when we get a scab.  However, if the spots appear to be under the cuticle, that's a whole other problem.  Dark patches under the cuticle can signal that OE is present.  An uneven blackness throughout the chrysalis signifies that it may be dying.  Click here to see photos of normal chrysalises as they go through stages of pupation.

Does raising Monarchs really help the population?  I have heard they do not migrate if raised indoors.

The simple answer is, I don't really know.  There have been research studies published stating that raising monarchs indoors removes their ability to orient south when they are released.  HOWEVER, these studies use eggs from captive bred butterflies, and they are destroyed after being tethered and "failing to orient south".  My question is this:  If you had released that butterfly into the outdoors, would it have oriented south eventually?  Are you able to track an insect that flies fast and unpredictably to see where it ultimately goes?  What kind of control was used and again, were you able to follow it around long enough to see where it went?  I am not a scientist, and I'm not saying that they are wrong or right.  What I am saying is that I have seen more monarchs this year than I have in the last 10 years.  

Do you tag your butterflies?

At this time, I do not tag.  It is not something I can afford to do but perhaps in the future.  If you are interested in donating tags to me please email me.

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