I just posted a video on YouTube of one of my monarch butterflies emerging from his chrysalis this morning.
I have raised monarchs for several years now. There is milkweed in the yard behind my work, which a friend and I both check for monarch butterfly eggs (they lay them on the underside of milkweed leaves). If we find some, we take them home to give them a chance to become butterflies, because we never know when the landscapers will show up and pull them out.
Caterpillars are quite easy to raise, if you have the interest, which I do as both a photographer and nature-lover. I have a 10-gallon fish tank with a screened top that I keep them in. After a few days the caterpillars hatch from their eggs, and they are tiny. I pick a milkweed stalk (making sure there are no bugs already on it) and cut an “x” in the lid of a plastic container, fill the container with water, and stick the stalk inside it. That way, the milkweed gets water and the caterpillars aren’t in danger of drowning. I put them on the leaves and then just let them do their thing. They eat, they grow, they molt. Every 2-3 days I get them some new milkweed. (Tip: They prefer smaller, light green leaves to older, tough ones.)
When they are ready to form a chrysalis, they head to the top of the tank and attach their butts to the screen with silk. They then hang in a “j” shape until they form a chrysalis (which mine tend to do after dark, when I’m asleep). The chrysalis is small, jade green, with an edge of black and gold at the top. After maybe a week and a half, the green fades until you can see the form of the butterfly folded up inside. That means they’re ready to emerge.
Mine usually open early in the morning, before it’s light out. Today I got up at 4:30 a.m. to film them emerging. I set up lights and my tripod the night before, so all I really had to do was wait and watch. This is the first year I’ve gotten a really good video of a monarch emerging. Not only that, but I made several short tapes of them stretching their wings, and one of me releasing them at Buttonwood Park, and then I used Windows Movie Maker to put together a really nice video presentation with music and transitions between scenes, which I’m really very pleased with and proud of.
I don’t mind getting up at 4:30 a.m. to watch my monarchs hatch. I can’t think of a better way to start one’s day! I haven’t seen as many monarchs this summer as I normally do, so this year in particular I feel like I’m doing something to help them rather than just observing them. You don’t have to be a kid and you don’t have to have kids to have a reason to raise butterflies. When so many of our lives are filled to the brim with work and stress, here is a way to reconnect with nature – and it’s free!