Breeding Endangered Monarch Butterflies

  Ted releasing our first adult monarch butterfly  

I planted some milkweed in the garden and it's been unexpectedly successful; it's now trying to take over the garden. Every year in early July, monarch butterflies lay eggs there, but to our great disappointment, none ever seem to survive. Apparently they have more predators than we thought, and lots of those are in our garden.

This year, we looked for leaves with eggs and carefully took them inside to a net-enclosed nursery where they could hatch, eat lots and lots of milkweed, molt through five instars, and finally hang themselves from the ceiling in a chrysalis. A week or so later, an adult butterfly emerges.

By season's end we had released seven healthy adult butterflies to find late-summer nectar and prepare themselves for their long (up to 4830 miles!) migration to Mexico.

When we started the project all we knew was that monarchs are having some trouble owing to habitat destruction and the steadily-dwindling supply of milkweed. It's worse than we thought; in July the International Union for Conservation of Nature declared the monarch butterfly endangered.

In our investigations we came upon a series of excellent YouTube videos on this subject by a science teacher named Rich Lund. His fantastic Raising Monarchs series, filled with spectacular close-ups and time-lapse sequences, saved us many mistakes, made this year's project possible, and transformed our oversights into valuable lessons for next year.

All the pictures are on the following pages. Click the small images to see them larger. Click the left and right arrows under the large images to step through a whole page as a slideshow. For printing or editing, fetch the high-resolution full-size image by clicking the Full-Size link at the bottom right of each large photo.

Individual pages:
1. Milkweed Plantation
2. 16–17 July 2022: Eggs
3. 19 July 2022: New Hatchlings
4. 21–27 July 2022: Very Hungry Caterpillars
5. 28 July 2022: Frass Factory, New Hatchling, 1st Caterpillar J-Hanging
6. 29 July 2022: 1st Chrysalis, 2nd Caterpillar J-Hanging
7. 30 July 2022: 3 Chrysalides and 2 More on the Way
8. 31 July 2022: 5 Chrysalides and a Caterpillar in the Wild
9. 5 August 2022: Chrysalis Darkens…
10. 6 August 2022: 1st Adult Butterfly Emerges
11. 7 August 2022: 2nd and 3rd Emerge
12. 8 August 2022: 4th and 5th Emerge, 6th J-Hangs
13. 9 August 2022: 6th Chrysalis
14. 11–13 August: Hungry Caterpillars, First Casualty
15. 14, 15 August 2022: The Making of the 7th Chrysalis
16. 16, 17 August 2022: 7th Chrysalis Rescued, 8th Emerges
17. 19, 20 August 2022: 6th Adult Emerges
18. 26, 27 August 2022: 7th Adult Emerges, Last Fails

Ted Ruegsegger

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