Our First Monarch Experience

Monarch Butterfly

This was our first year raising Monarchs as a homeschool project. I’ve got to tell you that we love Monarchs! We may even have a bit of butterfly fever. 

Perhaps your family would like to try raising Monarchs too. Here is a brief report of our Monarch project to get you started on your own.

Table of Contents

*I’ve also linked the resources and supplies we used for this project. If you make a purchase from these links, I will receive a small amount of compensation (not usually enough for coffee). Thank you for your continued support!

Learning about Monarchs

Our Monarch journey started with a science lesson about caterpillars and moths. My daughters, TJ & RJ, were instantly fascinated with butterflies. Especially the Monarchs! 

Using books and google, they quickly learned to identify the gender of a Monarch and could describe the Monarch life cycle with great detail. However they weren’t satisfied yet. Could we raise Monarchs and tag them? If it weren’t winter we probably could, but there aren’t many caterpillars around here (Michigan) during the winter.

We reread our caterpillar and moth book often and watched some Monarch videos on youtube. One of our favorite videos features the Wild Kratts and Monarch Butterflies!

Finding our First Monarch Caterpillars

Since we homeschool year round (a benefit of homeschooling), the girls were still busy with projects. One beautiful summer day they asked about caterpillars again.

I’ve always wanted to watch the Monarch life cycle up close, but have never found any monarch caterpillars. Yes, I know you can purchase them. I just didn’t want to!

First, we found a picture of milkweed, so we would know where to look for the caterpillars. The girls remembered that monarch caterpillars only eat milkweed.

Then we went for a walk and discovered a large patch of milkweed on both sides of the road near our mailbox, and along the driveway. Now it was time for us to find caterpillars!

Six year olds have amazing eyesight. RJ spotted a caterpillar right away and TJ soon found another one nearby. We collected three on our first walk!

Observing the Monarch Life Cycle

After finding our first cats, we placed them into mason jars. Each jar had a folded paper towel in the bottom, several leaves of milkweed, one cat (short for caterpillar—we love calling them cats!!!), a lid (tiny air holes) and ring. The girls labeled each jar with the cat’s name and date of collection. Leaves and paper towel were changed each day.

It was fascinating to watch the cats j-hang and wait for them to form chrysalises. The j-hang lasted much longer than we anticipated. Some hung for more than twenty-four hours. Unfortunately, they were sneaky and we didn’t get to see them transform. Once again we visited youtube for a close up look at the actual transformation process.

I’m so thankful for The Beautiful Monarch group on Facebook. Here we learned about T-flies, OE, bleaching, gender identification, feeding, and wing repair.

Following advice from the Facebook group, we decided a larger space was necessary for the butterflies to eclose (come out of chrysalis). We quickly ordered an inexpensive pop up tent/habitat from Amazon for our Monarchs. It was larger than we needed, but we are hoping to have more chrysalises next year.

Next, we waited for the chrysalises to harden (1-2 days). Then we moved them into the new pop-up habitat using the scotch tape method.

We waited, waited, and waited for the butterflies to eclose (leave the chrysalis). It was hard to wait! Knowing they could come out at anytime, we set up a camera with time lapse to capture the moment. See our video below!

Results of Our Monarch Project

This year we brought in a total of seven cats in various stages. One j-hung early and we got an up close and personal view of the dreaded t-fly. One made a beautiful chrysalis and then turned brown–it did not survive.

Five stayed in their chrysalises for 12-15 days and then eclosed. The first four were female and the last was a male.

All five were released on beautiful sunny days and flew joyfully away.

RJ holding a Monarch butterfly for our first release.

RJ really wanted to keep them for pets! This was a great opportunity for her to learn about the difference between wild animals and house pets.

Want more information about raising Monarch Butterflies? Mr. Lund Science has a whole playlist of videos to help you with every stage.

Our Next Monarch Project

We are excited about building a Monarch Waystation and tagging our Monarchs next year! The girls would like to begin with eggs and raise more cats.