Thursday, October 24, 2019

Thirteen more butterflies

Last fall, I wrote a post called "Thirteen Butterflies" about the twelve monarchs and one black swallowtail that we raised and released.

This year, we happened to raise thirteen again - all monarchs!

Rewinding to last fall, I harvested milkweed seeds from pods I found in the park. I waited until the pods were ready to burst in the fall, and gathered all the dark brown seeds. I kept them outside on the porch so they could experience the winter chill. Then in April, I planted them.

I tried growing them in the house alongside my tomato and pepper seeds. None of the milkweed grew. My friend gave me some seeds, too, and I tried to sow them outside in pots. None grew. At this point, I scattered the rest of the seeds in my little flower garden outside and hoped for the best.

Meanwhile, I sprinkled seeds for sunflowers, zinnias, cosmos, and blue cornflowers in the same garden.


At the end of July, I found a caterpillar and an egg on some milkweed at church! We brought them home in a paper cup and began to take care of them.

That same week, I was out looking at my garden, and I finally noticed tiny milkweed plants growing! Pretty soon, I found eggs on them! The wildflowers that I had planted had drawn the butterflies to our little garden. :)

Every day from the end of July through September, we fed our caterpillars fresh milkweed leaves that we found in the park or on the side of the road. (Our own milkweed leaves were too few to feed very hungry caterpillars.) 

We would have had more butterflies, but several of the day-old larvae died. I'm still not sure why, but I know that their survival rate isn't great when they're that small. It was so cool to show the boys again how quickly they grow into huge yellow-striped caterpillars, how they hang upside down from their silks, and how they shed their skins to form beautiful green chrysalises with gold flecks. 

This year, we got really comfortable letting the butterflies crawl all over us. (August not so much!) ;)

On the mornings that the chrysalises turned black, we kept our eyes on them and were able to watch quite a few of the butterflies right as they emerged! One day, we released four butterflies - the most we've ever had at one time. They were eager to fly away from the three loud little boys and screaming baby girl. It was such a magical experience to watch them grow, and then wish them a happy journey (hopefully) to Mexico! 

I read an article about indoor-raised monarchs possibly not migrating because they're not exposed to the light changes and temperature drops of late summer. Because of this, I kept our last caterpillars out on our screened in porch.

Our 2019 crew:

I really can't wait to do it again next year!!

Feel free to reach out to me if you are wanting to raise monarchs next summer but have questions about it!

And if you're interested in helping restore the monarch population, one BIG way you can do that is by planting milkweed. I just took this photo last night at the park - the milkweed pods have recently burst open, and brown seeds (attached to lots of cottony fibers) are aplenty and free! :)


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