I have an obsession…
It started last summer when my children’s pre-school began a study of monarch caterpillars and their transformation to butterflies. After seeing my girls’ fascination with these beautiful insects, we decided to embark on an exploration of monarchs of our own.
So, last summer, around July, I planted three small milkweed plants hoping to attract these gorgeous creatures to my yard, and the results were immediate. Right away we began to see these bright orange bursts of life flitting around the yard and my garden. And they stuck around, feasting on nectar from my Joe Pye Weed and Wild Bergamot.
But were they laying eggs on my little milkweed plants?
And, it didn’t take long for it to happen and for us to find them. Monarch eggs are tiny, white and shaped like half of a football. They are typically laid on the underside of the leaf, usually a smaller, fresher leaf, and every one I found, I brought in and hatched out in my kitchen, which slowly turned into a monarch rearing station.
It takes just a few days for the egg to hatch into the tiniest caterpillar which often first eats its egg shell before moving onto the tasty milkweed leaf. My children and I would provide each yellow and black caterpillar a daily dose of fresh milkweed leaves and watch them change and grow through their five caterpillar stages or instars, until they would finally spin a cocoon. The monarch cocoon may be one of the loveliest sights on the planet with its jewel green coloring and gold speckling, as stunning as any precious stone.
Then finally, they would hatch and we would release it to the sky, watching it fly towards to the sun. Usually, I would let my girls release the butterflies but occasionally I would allow myself the same pleasure, and it is indeed a pleasure as I cannot think of a more satisfying and pure feeling of joy than the release of a butterfly you’ve raised from a tiny egg to the wilds of the world.
Not only did we raise over 80 monarchs last summer and countless more this summer, but we also have participated in the monarch tagging project with Monarch Watch which gathers data from citizen scientists and uses it to track the migration patterns of the monarch butterfly. Because not only is the monarch a remarkably beautiful insect, but it has a tremendous life cycle unlike many of our other native moths and butterflies with the last generation of the summer migrating to Mexico to overwinter before returning north again in the spring.
A truly remarkable journey, worthy of an obsession…
For additional resources, diagrams, and general information, see the following websites.
Monarch Annual Cycle showing the multiple generations:
The Monarch Life Cycle from Egg to Butterfly:
Monarch Watch has several pages of excellent information:
To raise and tag your own butterflies with Monarch Watch, visit:
We are also a Certified Monarch Waystation –For more information and to certify your own site visit:
One of my favorite books on bringing nature to your home and garden:
Bringing Nature Home by Douglas Tallamy