With all the buzz about human intervention possibly harming our monarchs, some people are asking, 

SHOULD WE STILL RAISE MONARCH BUTTERFLIES?

The answer is still… yes!

There are been a lot of discussion in recent years around the risks of raising monarch butterflies.  From a study ‘concluding’ that reared monarchs cannot get themselves to Mexico, to another that suggests monarchs are not at all threatened, monarch enthusiasts are wondering whether they should just let them be.   Some posit that indoor raising inevitably leads to disease.   Let’s look at each of the arguments against rearing, before we look at the significant part monarch rearing plays in conservation.

A study published in 2019 suggested that commercially bred monarchs might not properly orient themselves toward Mexico.  Commercially raised dult monarchs were put into a flight simulator, and they didn’t immediately orient themselves south.  Mainstream media exaggerated the results, as they usually do, leaving the impression that reared monarchs don’t make it to Mexico.   Of course, we taggers know that many of our reared tagged monarchs are in fact recovered in Mexico, including one of mine.   The point the scientists are trying to make, is that they are less likely than their wild counterparts to make it. 

The same authors as in the 2019 study, published again the next year, in an attempt to answer the many existing questions from the first study.  That produced more suggestions that captive reared monarchs, even when raised in natural light, were not as likely to make it to Mexico.  However, even the authors admitted that sample size was low.  As we have only five indoor-reared individuals with multiple tests, we do not know if some proportion of the indoor-reared individuals is directional.’  A 2021 study from the University of Guelph concluded monarchs raised indoors are very capable of directional flight south.  

Bottom line.  The studies are few, with scientists disagreeing on the results.  They are talking about the migrating generation, and often testing commercially raised monarchs, certainly not those lovingly raised in small numbers by monarch enthusiasts.

Then there is the disease concern.  Scientists were firm that crowding spreads disease.  They are correct.  These days, most monarch raisers insure that each caterpillar has plenty of space, and rearing bins are disinfected between broods.  Some rear monarchs only from eggs.  My monarchs raised from eggs have rarely succumbed to disease.  Now I’m not saying the survival rate is 100%, but it is more than 90, and those that have died have died alone, not in an epidemic.    From the more mature caterpillars I have brought inside, I have had the odd case of npv, and  near the end of the season OE, but it did not spread to other caterpillars, because I, like others, monitor the health of my caterpillars, and isolate any that appear to be sick.  I have scoured the monarch rearing groups for years, and it seems like my experience is the norm in the regions where monarchs migrate.

And now, we are seeing articles that the monarchs are not in trouble of extinction, but of course, we knew that.  There are resident populations of monarchs in Hawaii, the southern states, New Zealand, and many islands.   People are confused.  If the monarchs aren’t in trouble, maybe we should focus our attention elsewhere?    

The reality is that while worldwide pockets of resident monarchs are somewhat stable, the migration of North American monarchs from Canada to Mexico, and back, IS still endangered.  Weather and habitat conditions need to be ideal or the migration can collapse.  If the oyamel forests in Mexico are over logged, if milkweed and nectar plants are not abundant along the migration routes and in the breeding grounds in the United States and Canada, the monarchs cannot complete their life cycle.  That would mean that most North Americans would never experience monarch butterflies.  And what a loss that would be.   And of course, without a diversity of nectar and host plants, the numbers of butterflies and other insects would decline dramatically, as well as birds and all the creatures up the food chain that rely on them.

How does the rearing of monarchs prevent their decline?

Anyone who has ever cared for a pet, no matter how small, knows that when you feed it, and keep it an its surroundings clean, you start to love it.  Maybe you have nurtured an injured bird, or taken a pet rat to the vet.  Personally, I have seen hundreds of people transformed by… yes, raising a single monarch caterpillar.  

The Save The Monarch movement is driven primarily by middle age women.  I have personally asked hundreds of them when they first became interested in monarchs.  The overwhelming majority said they were hooked after raising a few monarchs in their childhood.  What a shame it would be to deny our children of that life changing experience.

Observing monarchs in your yard, or watching a movie, does not compare to hands on experience.  Every teacher knows that.  That’s why students remember experiments they do more that demonstrations or movies.  

The best thing we can do to conserve insects is to plant habitat.  It’s the right think to do, but do we do things because we should, or because it excites us?  What truly motivates people of all ages is the awe we feel when we watch a caterpillar spin a silk pad, or allow the newly emerged butterfly, that we nurtured, cleaned and cared for, to hang and pump up on our finger. Then we send it out on its first flight, and wonder…. will it have enough to eat? Will it find a host plant to lay eggs on? That is what inspires people to act; their own excitement and joy, and the fear of losing it.

When people raise a few caterpillars, they will join the ranks of those who scream conservation from the highest rooftops.   They join the native plant movement because they love the results, first the butterflies, then the birds then all of the new wildlife they attract.  As they become teachers and advocates, the landscape of their neighbourhood returns to a more natural life giving state, then, the whole town.

How many should you raise?  

All the leading monarch conservation organizations recognize the importance of rearing monarchs.  These include Monarch Joint Venture, Monarch Watch, and the Xerces Society.

I recommend having 3 or 4 monarchs at different stages on hand throughout monarch season.  That way, when you show them at school, at your club, at the office, or to visitors at your home, you can best explain the life cycle.   And you would always have a caterpillar and/or chrysalis to give away.    Further, by caring for monarchs every day, you would be constantly inspired to think of new ways to promote conservation.  You will be reminded to check out my facebook page https://www.facebook.com/monarchcrusader, where I share stories of good work ordinary people are doing every day to save our monarchs.  

I have included links to many of the studies below, so that you can decide for yourself if there is real ‘proof’ for the call to stop raising monarchs, and how mainstream media has taken mere hypotheses to create shocking headlines and raise doubts about the good work citizen scientists are doing to keep the magic alive. 

Dr. Ryan Norris University of Guelph    https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/06/210608154419.htm?fbclid=IwAR1eHvWf5gfdMOeDG9s6HOTL5JhLtEjcOHw_VlvAe9HFWFp0QQYZ_pMoZoo

https://www.xerces.org/monarchs/joint-statement-regarding-captive-breeding-and-releasing-monarchs   Even The Xerces Society recognizes the value of raising small numbers of monarchs for education purposes, provided you take proper care of them.

Monarch Joint Venture:  if you are rearing for enjoyment or education  https://mjv.nyc3.cdn.digitaloceanspaces.com/documents/RearingMonarchsWhyorWhyNot.pdf  

https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rsbl.2019.0922   This is Andy Davis’s study re grip strength and size

https://www.pnas.org/doi/full/10.1073/pnas.1904690116  Supposedly demonstrates that reared monarchs don’t properly orient.

8 thoughts on “SHOULD WE STILL RAISE MONARCH BUTTERFLIES?”

  1. Thanks for this update weighing-in of pros & cons on the subject of raising Monarch butterflies. I have raised them here (at Hulsey Haven Monarch Waystation & Wildlife Habitat in upper middle-Tennessee) for at last 10 years. I use my outdoor covered porch to keep my protected enclosures on, to take advantage of natural sunlight, etc. I also bleach everything – even the tiny Monarch eggs laid on the many milkweed plants in my several Hugelkultur raised beds of native plants. While my successes don’t compare with what they were even 4 years ago, I have still been able to release clean, healthy butterflies for release. (They are still coming!!) Thanks again!!

  2. Good article, Carol.
    I raise larger numbers but also for educational purposes. The monarch handfeeding tent and also monarch tagging events at libraries and community centers draw hundreds of interested folks. I always have the line of people work their way through ed materials on habitat and conservation. It has lead to the installation of many, many monarch waystations and planting of milkweed.

  3. Excellent article Carol! Thank you for taking the time to educate us all on the importance of raising Monarch butterflies.
    I would never stop raising Monarch simply because of the few scientists against us.

    After doing it for the last seven years, they’ve spiritually convinced me and many others that we must keep doing it at all costs. 🙂

  4. Very informative article! Thank you! I love raising monarchs and releasing them! My husband helps too and the guests that come to the house absolutely are enthralled with them! 🌸🦋

  5. Great article Carol. Becoming active in our individual communities to raise awareness of the struggles of monarchs and pollinators is paramount. Our ultimate goal is to get the plants they thrive on in the ground and rearing monarchs plays a big part in achieving that goal.. Garden centers have the plants monarchs and pollinators need. We’ve developed a program to involve garden centers to get the word out about monarch conservation. We tested this program in a few towns and will be spreading it to many more towns and cities this monarch season. Please check it out at this link and let us know if you would like to be a monarch leader in your town. https://craigthebutterflyman.com/leaders-program

Comments are closed.

Explore More

Are you ready for monarch season?

March 31, 2020 2 Comments 0 tags

At this time of year, even if you didn’t have covid fever (I mean CABIN) fever, you might be itching for monarch season to start. I certainly am. Well, my

The book reviews are coming in.

April 26, 2012 0 Comments 0 tags

I feel like I’ve just performed in a show:  the reviews are coming in.  This one is from Time Magazine for Kids, ie Timeforkids  http://timeforkids.com/news/green-books/11191 How To Raise Monarch Butterflies

Book Review: Learn About Butterflies in the Garden, by Brenda Dziedzic

January 29, 2018 0 Comments 0 tags

  Learn About Butterflies in the Garden is a treasure that will delight both the beginner and advanced butterfly enthusiast.  How can it appeal to both?  Because it has close