Monday, September 26, 2016

The Monarch Butterfly Project

Our home is surrounded by an abundance of milkweed.  If you know anything about monarch's, you'll know they need milkweed plants to lay their eggs on.  Last year we tried hunting for eggs but luck was not on our side.

This year we had our house painted and I HAD to pull out our milkweed for the painters to be able to reach the foundation.  No worries, the persistent milkweed came back and thrived.  This year was different though.  After a heavy rainstorm bent the milkweed to the ground, we noticed eggs on the underside of the leaves!  Not only did we see eggs, but DADDY LONGLEGS were feasting on the eggs!

In an attempt to save the eggs, we collected as many as we could and brought them indoors.  A total of 17, shewww.  Did I mention caterpillars poop, a lot?  I digress.

We unknowingly turned this project into a unit study.  It was fantastic and well worth the little bit of effort we had to put in.

Bringing in the Eggs

For each egg we found, we cut the leaf off the plant and brought it in.

We laid the leaf, face up, on a paper towel where it wouldn't be disturbed.

Temperature in the house was kept between 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit.

Within 3-5 days, the eggs would hatch.

Preparing a Milkweed Plant for the Indoors

We prefer to use beer bottles to house the cut milkweed plants.  One cutting per bottle.

Fill the bottle with water, and then wrap the nozzle over with plastic wrap.  Poke a hole in the top of the plastic wrap (for when you insert the plant).  Covering the bottle with wrap prevents the larva from wandering into the bottle and drowning.

Try to find a tray to set the bottles upon.  Caterpillars poop....a lot.  The tray helps contain the mess.  Otherwise it'll end up all over the floors and can easily be tracked throughout the house.  Eeek!

Choose a healthy plant and cut on an angle at the base of the plant.

Thoroughly inspect your plant for predators and give a light rinse.

Remove the bottom leaves.  That allows the stem to go deeper into the bottle, providing  more support for the plant.

Place plant stem into bottle.

Transferring Egg to Plant

You'll need steady hands for this one.  When you notice the top of the egg turning black, the larva is about to emerge.  Now is the time you'll want to cut down the host leaf as small as you can get it without disturbing the egg and then carefully place the bit of leaf with the egg on it, right side up, on a leaf of your indoor milkweed plant.

This way when the larva emerges, it won't have to travel far to get to the live, healthy milkweed plant in order to eat.

Watching the Larva Grow

The larva will grow, and grow, and grow... for approximately 10-14 days.

They'll devour the plant and you'll have to be prepared to cut a few more to feed them through the 2 week period.  Transferring them when they get bigger isn't too hard, just be gentle when pulling them off the old plant and hold them steady when putting them on the new plant, at least until they get their footing.

When the 10-14 days is almost up, I recommend bringing in a branch that touches the milkweed plant.

Wanderlust and Pupa Stage

Before turning into a chrysalis, the larva will wander.  They're looking for the perfect, safe place to begin their chrysalis transformation.  Some wander off the milkweed plant and on to a branch or tree, I like providing the option...indoors.

When they're ready, they'll find their spot and spin a silk button anchoring them to the branch.  This button is AMAZINGLY strong.  Once anchored, they'll hang in the shape of a J and within 24-48 hours they will transform into the most stunning chrysalis you'll ever see.

Here they'll stay as a chrysalis for another 10-14 days.

Closing in on the 14th day mark, the pupa (otherwise known as the chrysalis) will begin to turn clear and you'll be able to see the miracle within.  A black and orange butterfly will emerge within 24 hours.

A Magnificent Monarch Butterfly Emerges!

The casing around the butterfly will split open and the butterfly will gradually make it's way out.  It will hang upside down, fanning itself (swaying back and forth) until the wings have dried.  I noticed this takes about 4-5 hours.  When they start walking around and getting curious, I let them climb on to my finger and walk them outside.  From there I placed them on a high plant, or tree in the sun and they left when they were ready.

I offered a few butterflies a sponge soaked in sugar water, but they didn't seem interested.

Fun Fact:
The difference between a male and female monarch is the male's have a black spot on a vein on each hind wing.  We had 2 boys and the rest were females!

This is a male.
You'll notice, on either side of the body,
black dots on the hind wing veins.

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