I can’t actually tell you how to raise Monarchs. I can tell you how I raise them, what tools I use, what works for me. But Monarch rearing, all rearing, is a matter of guidelines. Good general practices that should be employed across the board but the specifics, the kind of habitats and whether or not you raise indoor or out, that’s personal and specific to you, your income, your ability, your location, your desire. Take all the advice you can get, keep the necessary things for the health and happiness of your caterpillars, but modify the rest to suit your needs. You can only truly be successful if you do what works for you and your caterpillars.
So let’s start with the basic necessities.
Cleanliness: Like any animal, caterpillars can become ill from bacteria and viruses, so you want to be extra careful to keep your caterpillars and their home clean. To that end, never put your hands into their environment or handle them or their food without washing first. Yep, it’s that simple. Wash well, dry thoroughly. Next, caterpillars poop. A LOT. A lot a LOT. Their poop is called “frass”. So once a day, every day, you will need to clean out the frass. Then wash again. Cleanliness 🙂
Food Source: Caterpillars poop a lot because they eat a lot. A LOT. so they will need access to clean, fresh food, which for them is Milkweed and only Milkweed. We’ll discuss types and locations of Milkweed in another post. No matter how you raise the caterpillars, never try to raise more than you can feed, and be sure the Milkweed is pesticide free.
Housing: If you decide to join any social media groups devoted to raising Monarch butterflies, you will find no greater debate (among the many debates) than how to house them. Singly in boxes? In larger netted groups based on size? Indoors or outdoors? Here’s the secret: there is no one answer. Ultimately, they need to be safe, and sheltered, out of the sun but have access to regular day-to-night light changes, not too hot and not too cold, not too crowded, but not alone in too big a container that they can’t find the food or get lost. And just as important is your capability and ability to provide housing.
Specially designed boxes and nets can be expensive. I have amassed a collection little by little over the years, but in the early days, I used disposable plastic food storage containers with the center of the lid cut out and replaced with a paper towel for breath-ability.
Similarly, not all of us have the yard space or legal access to raise out of doors, never-mind severe weather issues that would make that hazardous for the caterpillars and butterflies. Yet, not everyone has the space or light needed to raise -indoors- either.
the real key to housing is to start with what will work for you and your family. If it requires a financial commitment or a space commitment that you simply don’t have, then that’s not the method for you, What really matters, is that they are housed to protect them from predators, number one. After that, access to regular diurnal/nocturnal light is crucial for their development. Third, not right in the sun. They have no way other than shade to regulate their body temps, so make sure they can get out of the glare. Four, careful not to overcrowd. Excessive poop and close quarters make for a bacterial nightmare and can decimate your numbers. Fifth, they will need enough space, even if they are alone, to become a full sized butterfly that will want to stretch out and warm up it’s wings. So, not a mason jar.
Commitment: Once you decide to raise them, be willing to stick with it. They will need your attention for a few minutes twice a day, to make sure poop is cleaned out, food is fresh and plentiful, and any issues are being dealt with. (We’ll also talk “issues” in another post as well).
Don’t be scared! You can do this! I’m always, a;ways happy to discuss whatever you want to get you started and help you out on this journey. You’ll figure out what works for you and tweak it as you go, and that’s okay. Mostly, it’s so great that you want to help out the Monarchs! Don’t let anyone tell you there’s only one way it can be done. 🙂