Raising monarchs is the most exciting, interesting, healthy and inspiring summer hobby for people from 2 to 102. The hunt for eggs, caterpillars, and food gets you out of the house, away from your screen, and into the natural world, with all its wonder and health benefits. The close up view of the super speed changes from egg to chrysalis is awe inspiring.
In the bigger picture, the bond you create with the tiny living thing you nurture, creates a desire to conserve all of nature. Humans have disturbed nature so severely, that only our intervention can save the migration of the world’s most loved insect. When we take a monarch egg from the wild, or from our own yard, our raising it increases its chances of living to be a butterfly from 1 percent to 90 per cent.
Can we increase the monarch population if a lot of us raise colossal numbers? I believe the scientists who say we cannot, and that we shouldn’t try. With an overwintering population in Mexico which numbers in the hundreds of millions, even our collective raising can’t make much of an impact. If there are so many, why is the migration threatened? Because it takes three countries to make it happen. Any weak link can be devastating. The destruction of the forests in Mexico, or loss of habitat and severe and changing weather in Canada and the United States, results in a fragile existence for our monarchs.
Can we increase the monarch population in our own area? Yes! If you live in a region that has more than one generation each year, your raising of monarchs, especially the first ones, will brighten your neighborhood. The ones you release will stick around to inspire others to learn, act, and keep the conversation going.
Do I have to bleach the eggs and leaves? Bleaching is a good idea, especially if you live in southern states where tropical milkweed grows year round, and OE is prevalent. An infected adult monarch contaminates her eggs with the parasite, that when ingested by its first bite, infects the newly hatched caterpillar. Bleaching prevents that. But if you live in the northern states or Canada, you may not see it often or ever. If you test for OE, or see that your butterflies are deformed, you’ll need to start bleaching.
Warning! California has banned the raising of monarchs, and in some provinces a permit is recommended.
How can we best spend the hours we might have available to play our part in saving our monarchs? I recommend raising a number that can be cared for in perhaps 20 minutes a day, and devoting your available time to any of the following:
- First and foremost, we need everyone who has control over any property to plant habitat. The native plants will support a whole ecosystem of insects and wildlife. Read Bringing Nature Home by Doug Tallamy, watch his youtube videos, then speak to whomover will listen. A good place to start is horticultural clubs.
- Give caterpillars to others, and teach them how to raise them.
- Prepare a slide presentation, or use mine. So many groups are looking for speakers. Contact your library, schools, scout clubs, seniors groups, alumni groups, and others, to arrange a talk. Give caterpillars to others, and teach them how to raise them.
- Set up a display at farmer’s markets, fairs, and festivals. Everyone will want to get up close and personal with your caterpillars.
- Contact politicians and convince them to take The Mayor’s Pledge. Encourage them to plant butterfly gardens everywhere.
- Approach businesses, schools, community centers, your condo association, gas station, fire hall, you name it, and ask if you can install a small pollinator garden.
- Arrange a caterpillar hunt at the campground, or announce an afternoon family presentation! Of course you brought your caterpillars!
- Get your company to sponsor land stewardship, and organize a group to remove invasive plants in an area near you. Then get yourself written up by the press.
Well that should get you started! For more information, and for quick replies to all your raising questions, join the Facebook group The Beautiful Monarch. To receive a free copy of my How to Raise Monarch Butterflies presentation, complete with script, write me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is the position of Monarch Joint Venture: “People who wish to rear monarchs are encouraged to do so in small numbers, for outreach, personal enjoyment, or citizen science. With the risks associated with large-scale rearing for release into the wild, raising large numbers of monarchs in captivity is not a recommended conservation strategy. Creating habitat, rich in milkweed and nectar sources, is critical in our efforts to support self-sustaining monarch populations.” https://monarchjointventure.org/blog/revised-handout-raising-monarchs-why-or-why-not
This is the position of The Xerces Society: “While raising and releasing small numbers of monarchs can offer important scientific and educational opportunities and foster a connection to nature, we believe that releasing commercially produced and continuously mass-reared individuals is unlikely to benefit monarchs, and could actually hurt them” https://xerces.org/monarchs/joint-statement-regarding-captive-breeding-and-releasing-monarchs