Raising Monarch Butterflies

Josephine R. profile photo

This week’s blog was written by Josephine R., a Bass alumni. Josephine hopes to find a job in the Environmental Science field, possibly as a Park Ranger or Environmental Scientist. She enjoys not only nature, but also dance, theater, and other artistic talents. Josephine also likes gardening and raising chickens as pets and for egg production.

I have been raising Monarch butterflies since I was in third grade. That year, my class raised Monarch butterflies as a project, and I have done the same on my own every year since. Every year was so much fun, and I would always raise between 5 and 10 butterflies. But when I searched for Monarch caterpillars this year, I could only find one; this worried me. Although I will not be talking about the possible extinction of this beautiful butterfly and why we should protect this species, I will be talking about my past experiences and problems when raising Monarchs.

Orange and black Monarch butterfly spread out on a leaf
Female butterfly with spread wings

The first problem, and most common for me, was the butterfly dying in the chrysalis. Now I have never really bothered to research more about the subject, but after experiencing what happened to the one butterfly I hatched this year, which I will talk more about later, I wanted to the know the answer to the death of every Monarch I’ve cared for. After researching more on my problem with Monarchs dying in their chrysalis stage, I found that the cause of their death is called the Black Death. This is when the Monarch is in its chrysalis and dies, turning the chrysalis black. And after reading the information on this website, I found that this is a very harmful and contagious disease that spreads easily between Monarch butterflies. I then came upon what would be the reason for my caterpillars dying in the J form, which is the form the Monarch butterfly makes about a day before they transform into a chrysalis. According to this website, it is a parasitic fly, called tachinid flies, that feed on Monarchs starting on the inside and eventually making their way to the outside of the Monarch. These symptoms show when the Monarch is in the J or chrysalis, and it looks like white strings hanging from the deceased monarch.

Monarch butterfly resting on some green moss
Butterfly with OE infection

The second reason was one I experienced for the first time this year, and this is the Monarch dying after successfully hatching out of its chrysalis. I have already done some research about what may have caused the death of this Monarch but have not yet come up with a result that would make sense. Some things I did have to keep in mind when researching about this was the climate, such as the temperature, and the state the monarch was in when I found it dead. I had let the Monarch go the evening before, and she was flying, although not much and only up to a certain height, but I didn’t take this into much consideration. I would also like to note that the monarch hatched in the late morning, and I released her in the evening, which gave her plenty of time to dry her wings out. Once researching, and although I am not as positive about my concluding result on the death of this Monarch, it does logically make sense. It is an infection called Ophryocystis Elektroscirrah or OE for short. And after reading this article, it sounds as if my Monarch only had a mild infection, since typically Monarchs with this infection can’t fully hatch out of their chrysalis and can never spread their wings out.

To conclude this blog post, I would like to say that I hope you enjoyed reading my short post, and learned as much as I did!

The photos used in this blog belong to the author.