How To Get Started
Preparing For Your Project
First I would like to say that I could not do this successfully without the support of my family. My husband is completely on board with this so far, and 2 of my 3 children enjoy it. It takes up A LOT of space and time, not to mention my attention. I am so drawn to aiding these creatures in their journey of becoming something beautiful and free from something lowly and, well, poisonous (if you are a bird). Please do not try raising the amount that I do unless you are fully dedicated to caring for them multiple times a day. They are completely dependent on you once you bring them into your home. It is better to leave them to the cycle of nature than to bring them inside and not spend the adequate amount of time needed, and have them die at your hands.
Here are the things that I use for supplies:
1-2 medium rectangular "tupperware" containers for the hatcheries
Several small 1 cup size round "tupperware" containers for the nurseries
Several medium size square "tupperware" containers for the smallest caterpillars
2-quart size "tupperware" containers from the Dollar General for the larger caterpillars
Paper towels for sanitary and cleaning uses
Gallon size freezer bags to store fresh clean milkweed leaves in
Scissors to trim leaves (milkweed sap is sticky so you will want dedicated scissors)
Permanent marker to mark your containers
Notebook & pen to log each day's progress
10 gallon fish tank (cleaned & empty)
Wire "space saver" racks
Stem water tubes for larger milkweed clippings
Syringe to add water to tubes without disturbing the caterpillars
Clean, dry paint brush to gently remove feces from leaves
Finding Eggs & Caterpillars
For eggs: I have currently (7/2018) 1 hatchery (see below). I put either the small leaves I find or clippings from larger leaves that have eggs on a damp paper towel inside the hatchery. I loosely place the lid on and check it several times a day for babies. I also change the damp paper towel every time it dries out so that it does not get nasty and moldy. This keeps the leaves from shriveling up and being useless to the babies.
What do I do if my egg-containing leaf DOES shrivel up?
I have had this happen many times, and what I do is trim carefully around the egg to remove as much of the dead leaf as I can. Then I place it on a healthy piece of leaf on the damp paper towel in the hatchery. This way the baby will not linger on the dead leaf. Once it has hatched I remove the dead piece that the egg had been on. Be very careful when removing the dead leaf as the tiny baby might be underneath and is easy to squish!
My egg turned black and did not hatch. Why?
Most likely the egg was infected with either a Brachonid wasp or Tachinid fly's egg. They are parasitic insects for Monarchs. This is not a contagious condition.
I found an egg but it didn't hatch.
Well, you MIGHT have found an egg, or you might have found a drop of dried milkweed sap. Be sure that your egg is pointy at the top like a football. Another cause can be that the egg was a "dud", or something else might have come along and eaten the contents. Nature is harsh.
Finding eggs is easy once you know what to look for! A lot of people confuse dried milkweed sap for eggs because they look like they should be eggs! There are also other insects that lay eggs on milkweed, like lady bugs and Milkweed Tussock moths.
Tip for success: Milkweed wilts EXTREMELY fast, especially if it is hot out. Bring a container with about an inch of cold water in it and a plastic storage container container. Place leaves with eggs on them carefully in the water, stem down, if the eggs are high enough so that they will not be under water. You can also place leaves that you intend to feed the caterpillars with in the water (doesn't matter if they are submerged for a bit).
Monarch females will lay eggs usually on the underside of a leaf. It is not often I will find one on the top, or find more than one per leaf. But it does occasionally happen. The best way to look under the leaves without accidentally squishing one or knocking one off is to gently grasp the stem of the plant and carefully twist it back and forth while bending it away from you. If you twist too much you will break the plant. I have found the best success checking the tiniest plants. Monarch babies are tiny and do best chewing on a very young leaf once they are out of the egg.
Here are some photos to show you what is NOT an egg:
Here are some of the friends (and foes) you will find when searching for eggs and caterpillars:
Keeping Eggs Until They Hatch
If you pluck a few leaves with eggs on them you will need to keep them from drying out before they hatch. I have tried a couple of things to accomplish this, depending on what kind of leaf it is on. If it is a tiny leaf I will lay it flat on a damp paper towel inside one of the smaller square plastic containers with a lid loosely over it to keep it from drying out. I label this container Hatchery. If it is a larger leaf I trim around the egg and lay it on the damp paper towel. As they hatch, I remove the piece of leaf the baby is on and place it on top of a small, whole leaf in a small tupperware. Don't be surprised if your baby walks away in the hatchery from its original leaf onto a neighboring one!