In the last couple decades or so, pesticides have been killing pesky insects, but also the not so pesky, the bees and butterflies. The Monarch butterfly population has dwindled 90% since then and dwindling their very important roles in the ecosystem: pollination. How can we help save the declining population? We can have our students or children participate in saving them and start the awareness with each generation to come. My absolute favorite part of this is, yes we are saving the butterflies but also, the amazement you see on the children’s faces when the cycle comes to an end. It’s breathless and astonishing for the children (and teachers) to watch. We can read about it, teach it, talk about it but when the time comes and they can see it with their own eyes, is a sight that they will leave it ingrained in those that witness it.
For years, my students and I search for eggs on Milkweed plants which are the only plant they lay eggs on. We bring them indoors and care for them every summer. There are butterfly popup habitats that we sometimes use to keep them contained because they do like to explore their surrounds! Please rest assured that they are not being captive! We are making sure they are safe inside from predators and then released into nature to continue their very important role in the ecosystem. Remember we need to make sure every single one has a chance to turn into a Monarch for the cycle to continue and continue their great migration of up to 3,000 miles to Mexico in the fall.
What a wonderful way for children to learn to protect nature with a philanthropic gesture.
How to Start
If you’d like to start by sharing this experience with your students or children. Start by seeking out milkweed. Some places have it growing wild depending on your area. In some places it grows so ramped that you could just pick some from the side of the road. If there is milkweed, there may be eggs and caterpillars on it so pull slow. You don’t want to lose a caterpillar. Plant it in your container or yard so that more Monarchs can lay more eggs. Alternatively, you can catch a butterfly and have it lay eggs on milkweed indoors. The more milkweed indoors or outdoors, the more chances of them laying eggs there.
Once inside, I usually keep the eggs and caterpillars separate so that no one eats each other! The eggs are usually put into a plastic container with a loose top. A fresh milkweed leaf is put in there every other day (just to make sure they have a fresh leaf when they hatch). The bigger caterpillars are placed in the mesh habitat with a small milkweed plant in a container. In my home I place them on a bigger plant on my three-season porch against a wall. They’ll eat away the leaves and start their climb up to the ceiling to become a chrysalis.
Once the butterfly emerges from its chrysalis, make sure they have a source of food. I usually have some flowers in my patio that are butterfly friendly which is just about any flower and sugar water (20% water to sugar ratio) on a bright colored plastic top from a container.
Fact: Monarchs can lay up to 300 eggs in their lifetime which can be up to 6 weeks (Approximately 3-4 days as an egg, 10-14 days as a caterpillar and 10-14 days in a chrysalis and a couple weeks as a butterfly).
Tip: When placing a milkweed plant in a container with water place paper towels around the base. Caterpillars do not swim! Or, instead of containers with water, use a floral tube and stand it in a mug.
Tip: When placing caterpillars in a room like my patio, clean away spiders and spider webs at least weekly. The spider webs will trap both for the caterpillars or butterflies if their paths cross.
Now let’s search for eggs and caterpillars bring them in and see watch the wonderful transformation.