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Author Topic: Raising monarch butterflies  (Read 537 times)

Offline LizzieBee

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Raising monarch butterflies
« on: April 12, 2018, 01:59:42 am »
Sorry this is so long

Ever since I was five, I was fascinated by every life stage of a butterfly. When I moved up to the country seven years ago when I was almost eight, I was able to actually raise some butterflies. Apparently there were about thirty Mourning Cloak caterpillars (spiky, black caterpillars with orange spots down their backs that in the sunshine are slightly silvery) in my Chinese Elm that I did not know about until they attempted to marched up the front of my house. Luckily, I came in time and was able to get about twenty of them, put them in my little pop-up green mesh butterfly habitat, and observe them as they wandered around inside, trying to choose which twig to hang from. Within three days, I had watched many of them make a silk pad on a twig or the side of the mesh, grab it with their back suction cup legs, and eventually hang in a J shape. They soon shed off their caterpillar skin, and underneath was a tan colored chrysalis. About three weeks later they began to emerge, the outside wings brownish and golden-rimmed, the inside of their wings, maroon with golden rims. I soon found out they did not drink from flowers, but instead tree sap, puddles, and rotten fruit. Kinda nasty... I released them unwillingly when my mom insisted. I also raised one Western tiger Swallowtail that when I was on a walk I saw one of those brilliant yellow swallowtails lay eggs on a bush so I found ons and brought it home. it turned int one of those big green caterpillars with orange eyespots. It was very fun to have. I lost it in my kitchen once... it was sitting on a cabinet a few feet from its jar.

Two summers ago I bought a package with five Painted Lady caterpillars, they turned into butterflies, and then I provided them with Little Mallow plants and Italian Thistle in which one of them laid about forty eggs. About twenty of them actually emerged into butterflies. It's kinda funny... I had them inside a large mesh habitat outside and a lizard would longingly watch them.
I've also raised about fifteen Pipevine Swallowtails, which were not easy because I had go picking pipevine quite often because they ate so much as caterpillars.

Monarch butterflies are beautiful, large, orange butterflies with black veins. The ones I'm talking about are from North America, mainly northern Mexico, the entire U.S., and small parts of southern Canada. Monarch butterflies are not secure on the conservation status and have been struggling the past about two decades. Their struggles are due to their overwintering sites in northern Mexico are getting smaller because trees are being cut down, pesticides, fields where milkweed (the host plant for the caterpillar) are no longer, wasps, and a disease abbreviated O.E. I'm sure there are more.

Now the point of the story... Two years ago I bought two Tropical milkweed plants. The latin name for milkweed is "asclepias." Anyways I raised about twelve monarch butterflies. A monarch butterfly laid 64 eggs on the two plants. Due to a group of wasps, the numbers dwindled to twelve caterpillars by the time I found out the problem. I moved them into the large mesh habitat. Last year I planted more milkweed seeds and when I found and watched two monarchs lay eggs on my milkweed plants I collected nearly 70 caterpillars off of the in the ground plants into my mesh habitat where two potted milkweeds were. They ate quite a bit a milkweed, but it was all worth it. In the end, I had about 50 butterflies.

Milkweed is a wild perennial plant which grows in open areas, by water (depending on the type), by the roadside, and is native to different regions of the U.S. I think I heard there are monarchs in Europe too, which means milkweed would be there two. Milkweed attracts honeybees, butterflies, and all the pollinators. The biggest problem with it is aphids. That can bee fixed with some soapy water if there are no monarch eggs or caterpillars on it. Milkweed can be purchased at most plant nurseries, specifically non-native Tropical Milkweed, or it can be grown from seed which is fairly easy. There is one problem with tropical milkweed. When a group of caterpillars eat from the milkweed plant, afterwards the plant must either die down quickly or be cut back because, by what I understand, old chewed on leaves can carry O.E., and if more caterpillars a little later come to eat, they get O.E. This is no problem for the native milkweeds because they die in the fall and that causes the monarchs to begin to migrate south for winter since they have no reason to hang around. Tropical milkweed is hard to kill. It will survive and keep growing which attracts more caterpillars that will then possibly get O.E. The best way to eliminate the possibility of O.E is by cutting back milkweed plants after caterpillars have eaten and then left the plant. I still have trouble understanding it, but that is what I've gathered.

More about O.E.
O.E is passed on to other monarchs by simply even being around each other. it is a parasite. Eggs and caterpillars infected are no different from other healthy caterpillars. Often chrysalises will be slightly smaller, discolored with black spots, not following the pattern of a healthy chrysalis, and the butterfly could emerge as a smaller, weaker monarch. I have tested them and found a few lightly infected full sized butterflies so you can never be sure without a detailed examination: The way to be sure if they do or don't is by using a microscope. I've seen it done before. I gently hold the monarch in one hand while carefully pressing a small piece of tape to the side of their abdomen. This does not harm them. it does not affect the way the fly or anything. The tape picks up some white and black powder from their scales. I then place the tape on a microscope. Black and gray ovals with a more pointed side are the prints of the scales. If the butterfly is infected, these scales will have small, perfectly shaped football shaped reddish spots randomly scattered around. Butterflies infected should not be released because the disease will spread. The eastern side of the U.S. has about 8% infected monarchs. About 30% of the western side of the U.S. monarchs are infected. Over 70% in Florida are infected because these butterflies never migrate so caterpillars are often feeding off of milkweed plants that were just fed off of. All of my knowledge is from much online research and from studies at home.

I may be missing some things. Sometimes when I'm reading I fill in information with my head and forget to put it on the document.

I will include photos of O.E under the microscope... it's really cool... I felt like a scientist.  :grin: once I figure out how to post pictures
LizzieBee


Offline Acebird

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Re: Raising monarch butterflies
« Reply #1 on: April 12, 2018, 08:28:24 am »
The way we plant milkweed up here is by not cutting it down before the pods open.  We have a butterfly bush that comes up every year.  Lots of butterflies and bumble bees enjoy the plant.
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Offline Robo

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Re: Raising monarch butterflies
« Reply #2 on: April 12, 2018, 10:55:40 am »
A women in our local bee group raises monarchs.  You might want to reach out to her, I'm sure she would love to talk with you.

https://worldwidebeekeeping.com/forum/index.php?topic=7313.msg90632#msg90632


I have a patch of milkweed that attracts monarchs if the guinea hens don't eat it all first.  Once it grows above their heads it is safe :-)

Honeybees do love it but it is hard on them as they get snarled in the flower.  I have seen many dead on the flowers that did not escape, and many more returning to the hive with parts of the milkweed stuck to them.
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Offline LizzieBee

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Re: Raising monarch butterflies
« Reply #3 on: April 12, 2018, 11:58:38 am »
Do you have monarch caterpillars? They are yellow, with black and white stripes.

The monarch caterpillars love fresh seed pods. It?s difficult to harvest the seeds with all the white fuzz so I usually open it a little earlier or put it in a paper bag with a couple of pennies and shake it. And somehow the seeds will not carry O.E.

Robo, I?ve seen bees get stuck but they just buzz very loudly and pull themselves off. I haven?t seen dead bees on the flowers. I?ll look closer this year.

Does anyone know how the honey from milkweed tastes?

LizzieBee

Offline Dallasbeek

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Re: Raising monarch butterflies
« Reply #4 on: April 12, 2018, 01:30:47 pm »
Lizzziebee, you really need to get rid of the tropical milkweed and put in the variety native to your area.  The Mexican milkweed stays active too long to benefit monarchs, while the native dies back and forces the monarchs to keep moving south toward their winter home in Mexico.  Keeping them this far north, they wind up freezing to death.  We have had the Mexican milkweed for years and just last year found that we were not really helping the butterflies, so have been trying to replace it with a variety native to our area.  Check this out with a naturalist in your area.  We had to go to a native plant nursery to get the "good" kind for our area, along with some advice on the matter.  We first became aware of the problem when we'd see cterpillars on our milkweed in November and knew they shouldn't be here so late.
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Offline LizzieBee

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Re: Raising monarch butterflies
« Reply #5 on: April 12, 2018, 11:26:20 pm »
I have native milkweeds Butterfly, Narrowleaf, and one Showy. I also have one ballon Milkweed plant.  I keep a close watch on my Tropical Milkweed. The latest I?ve ever had Monarchs was early August. That was the overwintering generation.

I?m going to continue to allow my Tropical Milkweed to grow because it offers much foliage for the caterpillars. I cut it down after the caterpillars have turned into butterflies which is usually mid August. I only ever get monarchs in the late summer and only one group each year so I don?t have to worry about O.E. I still test each of them because their parents could have had it and passed it on.

Also, another way to tell if a monarch has O.E is the white on their abdomen is often much less prominent compared to a healthy butterfly.

LizzieBee

Offline Dallasbeek

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Re: Raising monarch butterflies
« Reply #6 on: April 13, 2018, 10:18:47 am »
 It's good to hear that you are on top of the problem.  We are on their major migration path, so we see monarchs from spring until too-late in the fall, when they should be far south of us. 

Btw, I never heard of anyone having one milkweed plant except for the first year.  After that, the whole neighborhood has milkweed plants.  Good luck with all your pollinators.
"Liberty lives in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no laws, no court can save it." - Judge Learned Hand, 1944