Thursday, July 14, 2011

Finding Monarch Eggs and Larva

Monarch caterpillars have only one source of food – milkweed. If you learn how to identify milkweed, you will have no problem finding and raising your own Monarch butterflies. 

The milkweed plant is shown in the photo on the left.  Around here, you might start to see some eggs and larva in June, but you will see an increase in eggs after the plant blossoms. The blossoms on the milkweed in our area are a pinkish-purple color.(Of course when this all happens depends on our weather).

When Monarchs lay their eggs, they do it on the underside of the leaves of the milkweed plant. You will only ever find one or two per leaf.  The eggs are very small, approximately 1 mm in diameter.

The photo on the right shows a child pointing to a small egg on the milkweed leaf. 
There are other things that could be on the leaf that are not eggs, including small bugs.  Here is a close up of the egg with a microscope to give you a better idea of the small shape you are looking for:

The eggs are a milky white to off white color.  As the larva is getting ready to emerge from the egg, the egg will turn a light gray color with a black spot. The black spot you are seeing is the head of the larva, the gray the body. Fresh hatchlings or larva eat the egg when they hatch and then begin to feed on the milkweed. 

 When you are out looking for eggs, you might end up finding larva instead. Small holes in leaves is a good indication that there is a freshly hatched larva!
 (This is the underside of the leaf pictured above, it does have a small larva- caterpillar on the underside).

 Big chunks of leaves missing might indicate a large caterpillar like this one we found!
 After they are an inch long, we can hold them, but be careful! Caterpillars like to eat and poop!

Your caterpillars will need a continuous supply of milkweed for about two weeks before they are ready to form their chrysalides.  It is important that you provide enough milkweed for your growing caterpillars. You will want to wrap a damp paper towel around the bottom of the milkweed to keep it watered (or use a floral tube for larger stalks of the plant).

 It is also important that you line the bottom of your observation station with paper towel. This serves two purposes, First it makes it a lot easier to clean up after your caterpillars. Second, when the butterflies emerge it will soak up the excess fluid and provide a safe place for them to rest until they are ready to be released.

Raising Monarchs is a highly rewarding educational activity. The children will love to assist in finding the eggs and small caterpillars, feeding them and holding them once they have reached at least one inch in length. It is important that you re-release the butterflies after they have emerged to allow the cycle to continue. 

For more information on extending your butterfly study please search our archives.

I linked this post up to the Outdoor Play Link Up hosted by:


Kate @ An Everyday Story said...

Amy have you raised the butterflies before? Is it easy to do? I really want to share this experience with J but I would hate to kill the caterpillars.

Amy A @ Child Central Station said...

Yes, we have done this before! It is really easy to keep them alive, just keep feeding them milkweed! Kate- if you send me your email address, I'll send you a learning packet that I shared with local providers at a recent training that has more details on trying this out.

kelli - AdventurezinChildrearing said...

new follower from the link up at Outdoor Play-
love this idea- the boys would really enjoy it!

any chance I could get that learning packet link?
I'm at

I'll be happy to send you a learning pack about sea turtles that we have made in our homeschool!

Catherine said...

fascinating! Thanks for sharing the info.

Holly Baker said...

I am sooooo glad you shared this. I found this link on Pinterest. I know exactly where milkweed grows. I will just have to make sure my hubby doesn't cut it down!

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