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.