Monarch Caterpillars!

We believe strongly in doing our bit to help the Monarch butterfly, whose migrating population has declined about 90% in recent decades (you can read more about saving the Monarchs here). And so we have lots of Milkweed (Asclepias spp.), which is the only genus of host plants for Monarch Butterfly Caterpillars.

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Monarch Caterpillars on Butterflyweed.

While we have seen a decent number of adult Monarchs most summers, over the years Monarch caterpillars have been few and far between in our garden. This made me feel like someone who has organized an elaborate birthday party for a guest of honor who doesn’t bother to show up.

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Until this year. All of a sudden, we are seeing Monarch Caterpillars all over our Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa). Big fat ones, tiny little ones, and others of medium size.

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Before forming a chrysalis, Monarch butterflies hang from their chosen spot and bend themselves into a “J” shape.

We’ve also seen a Monarch chrysalis, which is a first. Sadly, the great majority of Monarch caterpillars end up eaten by other insects. The survival rate, I’ve been told, is about 5%. This is why some people, including a number of friends of ours, raise caterpillars indoors. We haven’t done this ourselves, but maybe we’ll give it a try this summer.

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Monarch chrysalis, hidden among the leaves.

Monarch chrysalids are also difficult to find because they don’t stay on the Milkweed plants. They’ve been known to hang from all kinds of surfaces.

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Peeking out from under the flower buds.

We have lots of other host plants for different kinds of butterflies. So far I haven’t seen any other types of caterpillars except for the Black Swallowtails, but our experience with the Monarchs indicates patience (not my strong suit) may be rewarded.

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Adult Monarch on Swamp Milkweed.

Both Judy and I are really pleased about the chrysalis and all the Monarch caterpillars this year. Judy’s been going out to check on them every morning (me too). This is what habitat gardening is all about, contributing to a healthier environment while providing pleasure and excitement for the gardener.

49 Comments on “Monarch Caterpillars!

  1. A woman I know brought chrysalises into her home to raise, and had great success. I can’t remember how many she started with, but she’s released 36 butterflies, and many have stayed around her garden. It’s a fact that they’ll set up shop in some odd places, too. A friend in California found a chrysalis under the arm of a lawn chair. After that, she made it a point to be more observant, and not assume anything about where they might be.

    • We brought 4 caterpillars into our house last Sunday. They generate an incredible amount of frass, we have to clean the container every morning. Can’t wait to see chrysalids!

  2. Wonderful newsthat they are hanging around your garden. I hope they turn into butterflies successfully, we must all do our bit.

  3. How fabulous!! I have lots of milkweed, and last year I saw quite a few monarchs, but I don’t often find caterpillars either. The next town over from us has a butterfly aviary where they raise monarchs, and last year they had so many caterpillars that they were running out of milkweed and giving them away to anyone who had some. We took home a few, but couldn’t find them after the first day. We hoped they made it, and that they escaped all of our birds!

    • We just took four caterpillars inside a few days ago. Now 2 of them are chysalids, the other two look like they are about to form chrysalids as well.

  4. So exciting! I see milkweed growing along the roadsides around here and see an occasional Monarch butterfly. When I was little my sister and I used to find Black Swallowtail caterpillars and raise them until they hatched as butterflies…it was fascinating to watch!

  5. I went to the local nursery to buy some swamp milkweed and they did not have any this year. I guess if I do find some and ever have any caterpillars, I can cover the plants with netting.

    • That’s too bad they didn’t have any – you could try ordering from catalogs like Bluestone Perennials or Prairie Nursery.

  6. What terrific news, that you have an influx of monarch caterpillars this year. Let’s hope that most of them make it to maturity.
    Great pictures.

  7. Lovely! I will start looking for them in my perennial beds.

  8. How very exciting! I have orange butterflyweed in my garden, because it’s wonderfully drought tolerant. We don’t really get monarchs this far north, but I’ve seen lots of swallowtails this summer. Great shots of the cats and the chrysalis. I hope it manages to make it to adulthood.

  9. These are the best cats to have in the garden. I hope that more than 5% of yours survive. What fun it would be to see one open in the garden. Best of luck.

  10. Well…as they say, everything comes to those who wait! Great to see how many caterpillars you have had this year. Judy’ s last photo of the Adult Monarch butterfly is a beauty & a great reward….hope there are many more to come.

  11. Congratulations! It must be thrilling to witness the life cycle of the monarch. Your photos are gorgeous! The first butterfly I saw this year was a monarch, but I have seen very few since. I hope more monarchs will visit me. I planted several perennial asclepius last year, but sadly, as in the past, they have perished. At least I can provide nectar plants for them.

  12. How exciting! We have common milkweed scattered here and there that was being enjoy by numerous caterpillars last year. The plan was to add more milkweed to the garden this year – swamp milkweed and butterflyweed – but I didn’t get around to sowing the seed. So next year it will have to be…

  13. Last season, when common milkweed plants really took hold in the small “meadow-ette” here, I was excited to see a couple of them covered in caterpillars. On closer inspection, though, they weren’t monarchs, but milkweed tussock moth caterpillars. Oh well; maybe this year. I did see an adult monarch last week, but nowhere near the milkweed. Yours are inspiring! Fingers crossed for a few successful chrysales…

  14. Raised five last year and it was a wonderful process to watch. Used an old one gallon fish bowl covered with screen. So cut the branch with the chrysalis and bring it in to hatch it! It’s fascinating to experience!

  15. Exciting is right! When my girls were young, we would find monarch catapillers and put them in jars with plenty of milkweed. Always a delight to watch them emerge from their jeweled cases.

  16. I am envious . I have more milkweed this year than ever, but I was visited for a few days by only one adult Monarch that I could see, and I have no caterpillars. But I am glad you are doing so well with them!

  17. Great post! My daughter and I rescued a couple monarch caterpillars today from milkweed that will be cut down from the side of the road! Our milkweed has different color flowers than yours.

    • There are several different species of Milkweed. The flower colors vary – orange, rose pink, light pink, white, purple, and probably more.

  18. I just love these adorable caterpillars, fascinating creatures. How wonderful that you finally have them. I have read several American blogs where these creatures are raised indoors or cloths wrapped around plants to protect them. xxx

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