How To Grow Monarch Butterflies and Black Swallowtails.
You can do it! It is a fun and rewarding project especially if you are there when the butterfly emerges. I recommend that you purchase the “Marvelous Monarchs” video, which is a step by step visual guide on what to expect when raising Monarchs or Black Swallowtails.
Ÿ You will need a rearing container such as a plastic shoebox and lid that you can buy at the “Dollar Store”. You will need a lid with holes in it for your container so that the caterpillars cannot crawl out. With a razor blade knife, cut a 3 X 5 opening in your shoebox lid and hot melt glue a piece of screen over the opening on the underside of the lid . Support the lid with a flat piece of wood before cutting or the plastic may crack. You can also use a piece of screen over the aquarium but this is can be flimsy and will be harder to keep tight against the tank. Caterpillars sometimes have trouble attaching themselves to screen when they form their chrysalis. They do better attaching to the plastic.


Ÿ You will need a ready source of milkweed for Monarch caterpillars or Queen Anne's Lace, parsley, dill, or fennel for Black Swallowtails. If you purchase parsley in the super market, wash it thoroughly before use. Pesticides will kill your caterpillars. You need to feed them every day. It is estimated that a growing caterpillar will devour at least 20 or more large milkweed leaves in its lifetime, which is about 10-14 days in the caterpillar stage. They are virtual eating machines. After they go into the chrysalis stage, then it doesn’t matter. Remember, what goes in, must come out. Their tank must be cleaned every day, two to three times a day as the caterpillars grow larger. Droppings will pile up and can be a source of disease in the caterpillars.
Ÿ You must know what you are looking for when you go out hunting caterpillars and eggs. It is easy to confuse the eggs with other things. The eggs are pearl color and the shape of a football standing on end. If it’s round or white or yellow, it isn’t a Monarch egg. The eggs are found on the underside of the milkweed leaf. If you have a magnifying glass, take it with you. It makes it a lot easier for identification. The caterpillars are easier to find. Look for milkweed leaves that have holes in them or chunks taken out of them. There you are more likely to find caterpillars. Take along a couple of deli cups and a pair of scissors for cutting the leaf from the plant. You may also cut the milkweed at its base and bring it home to put in a water jar. This way the caterpillars can feed right on a fresh plant in the jar. Cover the jar opening with Saran Wrap and poke the plant into it so the caterpillar won’t fall in the water. Set the jars in a box or an aquarium so the droppings won’t make a mess on your table, etc.
Ÿ After a few days the caterpillars will outgrow the milkweed in the jars. Lay damp paper towels in the bottom of the container and place the milkweed leaves on the damp towels so they will stay fresh and add the caterpillars to the leaves. Each day you will need to remove what is left of the eaten leaves, their droppings, old paper towels and replace with fresh ones. This is where the "shoeboxes" come in handy. You can pick up the caterpillars to move them around. You won’t hurt them if you move them carefully. Store milkweed leaves in a “zip-lock” bag, in the refrigerator crisper drawer. You can also freeze milkweed leaves to keep on hand if your supply gets low. Pack the leaves flat between layers of wax paper and store them in "zip lock" freezer bags. Thaw them before feeding them to your caterpillars. Do not touch your eyes when handling milkweed. Milkweed sap is a severe eye irritant! Wash hands thoroughly after handling milkweed.
Ÿ Caterpillars do not do well in an air-conditioned environment. If in a classroom, keep them near a sunny window where it is warmer. If at home keep them on a covered porch or sun room. They like it warm. Also keep their paper towels moist.
Ÿ After a week of growing, they will be nearing the time that they will form their chrysalis. They will stop eating after 10-14 days and start seeking a place “spin their button” to attach themselves and hang in their “j” position. The chrysalis needs to hang freely in order for it to form properly. Now you can relax because their eating frenzy is over and you won't know what to do with the free time that you now have.
Ÿ After hanging in the “j” position for about 12 hours, the caterpillar splits its skin and sheds it for the last time, forming a chrysalis. It does the “hula”, thereby securing its tail-hooks, called the cremaster, into its silk button. This will securely hold the chrysalis in any type of weather until the Monarch butterfly emerges, usually in 10-14 days. If the chrysalis is attached to the sides of the container or if it is hanging against something, or too close to the bottom of the container, this is not good. The chrysalis may become dislodged from the side of the container and fall. If it is against another object, it may become deformed. If it is too close to the bottom of the container, there may not be enough room for the butterfly to emerge and hang so its wings can dry and fill out. Chrysalis can be safely moved to another location. We can instruct you how to move it safely. The plastic shoebox is deep enough for the emerging Monarch to hang safely. The Black Swallowtail likes to form its chrysalis on a small branch or stick inside your container. Its chrysalis resembles a piece of wood hanging from the branch.
Ÿ After the Monarch emerges, it will hang for about two hours. During this time it will pump the liquid from its body into its wings, filling them out for flight. exercise its The Monarch can be safely handled during this time. Fold their wings together and carry them outside in that position. Place them on a flower. Chances are they will be hungry and sip nectar before flying away. Their wings are surprisingly tough. Near the end of the summer, any Black Swallowtail chrysalis that has not yet turned into a butterfly will probably wait until spring to emerge. Do not take the chrysalis inside. They need to winter over outside in a protected location, ie: a covered porch, carport, etc. Remember, they are not dead so don't discard them! Transformation is coming when the weather gets warm.
Ÿ There can be a good possibility that your caterpillars may become infected with a parasite called “OE- Ophryocystis elektroscirrha”. They may ingest spores from infected milkweed leaves which multiply inside the caterpillar, killing it either in that stage or in the chrysalis stage. Yellow aphids also inhabit the stems and leaves of milkweed. To guard against this happening, I suggest that you wash all milkweed leaves with a rag in a 5% bleach solution for 3 minutes and then rinsing it in clean water before feeding your caterpillars. This will kill any spores and aphids that may be on the leaves and disinfect your containers. Also, soak all containers and lids in a bleach solution for an hour and rinse well in clean water. Be sure to use rubber gloves when using bleach. For complete information on this refer to I like the admonition, “better safe than sorry”. I keep a container of bleach solution and a container of water handy at all times when I bring milkweed home, especially milkweed that is growing wild in the fields. Change the bleach solution once a week to keep it potent. Refer to for further help and information on raising Monarchs. Monarchs require commitment and work but the rewards are well worth it. With practice, you can develop a good system and we can help provide the knowledge you need. Give it a try! The fate of the Monarch butterfly and its habitat depends on people like you.