Help! Our Monarch Caterpillars are Disappearing.

Several families in our area have purchased milkweed plants and are watching the amazing Monarch butterfly lifecycle first hand. However, a few have contacted me and others on our homeschool list about their caterpillars disappearing and possibly atacked by predators.  The basic question has come down to “How Do I keep our caterpillars from disappearing?” 

The first year we did milkweed and caterpillars I freaked out over the missing caterpillars too. Here there were these wonderful caterpillars and then the next day they were gone. But thankfully we figured it out… Once they reach about 1 ½ to 2 inches (or whatever it is when they know they are ready to pupate) then they crawl off and form their chrysalis somewhere else. They will not form the chrysalis on the milkweed.

So what we’ve learned to do is when they were in the big fat stage on the milkweed, we put the ones we want to watch (not all) into a habitat so we can watch the transformation.   Whatever habitat you use should be contained, with plenty of air flow and cool (avoid a sunny & humid environment, otherwise they will die). It’s important that it is contained because they will crawl away. (Earlier this year, my 11 year old daughter had one crawl out of an opening and form it’s chrysalis on a single thread from her bed sheet.)

If the caterpillar is big enough and you have some milkweed leaves, put them in there, but they prefer live milkweed. I’ve experimented with putting a milkweed plant in the habitat and that works. I’ve read research on using squash peelings when you are out of or low on milkweed; and it seems that it works best when the caterpillars are large enough and are fed a blend of milkweed and squash peelings. But I’ve never tried it.

Milkweed is poisonous to most would be predators, so overall monarch caterpillars don’t have much for predators. Wasps however are known to attack caterpillars periodically. We’ve found that most of the time missing caterpillars are usually just the result of their time coming to begin the transformation.

Once the butterfly’s emerge, we usually let them go. However several years ago, my daughter wanted to “nurse” a butterfly with a broken wing and we were able to keep it going for a few days on fresh flower nectar (Potted, not cut) and when that wasn’t available, sugar water. 

Here’s some instructions for creating your own habitat out of netting. http://www.butterflyschool.org/teacher/makehouse.html We used these the year we “nursed” the butterfly. Since then, we’ve purchased a collapsible butterfly habitat and that’s worked well for us. If you are looking for a collapsible butterfly habitat, I recommend the Butterfly Pavilion made by Insect Lore; it fits a small milkweed plant and is large enough for multiple caterpillars and/or an emerged butterfly to flutter about.

Another choice that has worked well for us is a bug house . This is only good for watching the transformation though. The caterpillar needs to be just about ready for the transformation and once the butterfly emerges, you’ll want to release it pretty quickly, as there’s no room for it to fly. But, it works good as a small portable area to watch the transformation from caterpillar to chyrsallis, to butterfly, and is relatively inexpensive.

Anyway, you choose, enjoy the process. The metamorphisis from caterpillar to butterfly is an amazing thing to behold and so much more interesting to learn about first hand than from a book.

Enjoy!

…Shannon

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4 Responses to Help! Our Monarch Caterpillars are Disappearing.

  1. i really like Fresh Flowers because they are very beautiful ;;~

  2. Basin Taps  says:

    i love the smell of fresh flowers, they can really make my day so beautiful”"-

  3. bed sheets that are made of flannel fabric are the best type of bed sheets -:”

  4. garbage man says:

    Howdy! Do you use Twitter? I’d like to follow you if that would be okay.
    I’m definitely enjoying your blog and look forward to new posts.

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