Monarch Madness: Attracting & Raising Butterflies in Your Yard

If you buy milkweed, butterflies will come.

In droves. Or a flutter. {A group of monarchs is called a flutter. A group of butterflies can be called a swarm, flight, rabble, or my fav a kaleidoscope.}

Back in March, I innocently bought two milkweed (a.k.a. butterfly weed) plants at our favorite annual garden show. Why not? I like butterflies. Not only did the plants have cheerful yellow and orange flowers, they seemed like something I wouldn’t immediately kill. Butterflies showed up immediately, and I patted myself on the back.

On Father’s Day, I noticed the plants looked scraggly and bare. Upon closer investigation, I discovered why.

They were infested covered in Monarch caterpillars. 

I counted at least twenty brightly striped critters devouring our plants. Within a day, the two plants were stripped to their stems. Holy hungry caterpillars! Eric Carle knew what he was talking about. Not wanting our newest family members to starve, I hunted down more more milkweed for our very hungry caterpillars to munch. These rapidly growing little guys are extremely finicky—they ONLY eat milkweed. Luckily, our local Lowe’s had some in stock.



Quite by surprise, we had our own summer biology class. Not bad for a slacker parent who planned no educational enrichment for the summer. 

We researched how to keep our new pets alive. A few years back, my kiddo received a butterfly cage from Santa. I dug it out, dusted it off, carefully added a few of the largest caterpillars. He’d been begging me to order some online. It couldn’t get any more natural (or cheap) then just plucking them from the yard, right? 

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Mama Monarch lay her eggs (estimated 100 – 300 in her short lifetime)  on the milkweed plants yard.



 
 

When the eggs hatch in 3 – 4 days, the itsy-bitsy caterpillars (larvae) are only about 2-6 mm. 

Then they start eating. 

And eating.

And eating.

{and pooping, as you will discover, if you raise them in a cage}



After approx. 10 – 14 days, they reach the size of their final shed {about 2 inches}.  

 

They attach themselves to a stem or a leaf {or the top of the cage} with silk and start metamorphosis. After hanging upside down for a day or so, they shed their caterpillar skin to reveal a green cocoon. It happens in about a  minute —amazing!

   



Seven days later (although all the research says it takes 10-14 days) our butterflies emerge from their cocoons. You have to be quick if you want to catch it—the ones we watched this morning popped out in less than a minute.  The new butterflies unfurl their and dry their wings. 

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The first beauty to hatch didn’t want to fly away. We coaxed her onto flowers, tempted her with nectar and blooms, but she wouldn’t take to the air. After careful inspection, I noticed she had a broken wing. 

Guess she will be spending her short life cycle with us.

We’ll be kind.  


Want Monarchs in your yard?  In most areas, they follow a distinct migration pattern. Here in Florida, they seem to be around for a large chunk of the year, possibly even overwintering in some locals. 

Before the migration hits your area, BUY MILKWEED. These beauties are desperate for it. The caterpillars only eat milkweed, so if the female can’t find any, she won’t lay her eggs.

See—this guy was so enamored by it, he went after the flowers on the plant tag.

Too many Monarchs fell in love with our tiny milkweed patch. We don’t have enough plants to sustain all the caterpillars. I’ve already started milkweed seeds in pots, and I’m going to plant it all around the yard.

This time next year, I will oversee a mammoth butterfly colony.

Save the Monarchs. Buy some milkweed. Your kids will think you’re a hero. So will I.

For more information on how to raise butterflies, click here.  I followed the guide provided by My Monarch Guide. She even includes the simple household items you can use to create a Monarch habitat. It’s easy. You can do it. The Monarchs & your kids will thank you.

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