With the new warm temperatures and all this time spent in our backyards lately, let’s get prepped for butterfly season! We love to watch them flutter and fly past us and amaze our children. Orange, black, yellow, blue… all the colors of the rainbow fly around our backyards this time of year. March is the best time to start!
My kids and I have made our backyard a little more butterfly friendly so we can enjoy these beauties and also learn the life cycle, that way, it counts as a school lesson as well! There are many species of butterflies here on the Gulf Coast and depending what host plants you provide, you may get a rainbow of species visiting you and entrusting you with their babies.
I’ll be focusing on Monarch butterflies. Here is a step-by-step guide of what you’ll need:
1. PURCHASE MILKWEED
Monarchs only lay eggs on and eat milkweed (scientific name: Asclepias spp.). You can purchase milkweed from your local nursery (I love Courtney Farms in Ocean Springs!) and they will provide care instructions.
There are many flowering plants you can plant to attract the adult butterflies to drink nectar, but you need milkweed if you’d like them to lay eggs.
2. LOOK FOR EGGS UNDER LEAVES
Once an adult female monarch lays eggs on your milkweed, the fun and learning begins! Look for eggs on the underside of the leaves. The egg will hatch in 3-5 days.
3. FEED THE CATERPILLAR
Then for 14 or so days you will have a very hungry caterpillar (larva) on your hands! Each caterpillar can eat an entire potted milkweed plant, so be prepared with lots of fresh milkweed. They will shed their skin several times as they grow until they are ready for the last stage of the cycle, the chrysalis (pupa/cocoon).
4. FIND THE HIDDEN CHRYSALIS
I’ve learned caterpillars who are ready to form their chrysalis get a little crazy when finding a place to transform. They try to find a hidden spot away from predators and over the years we have found them in the oddest of places – on baseball bats, door handles, screens, shoes, our bouncy house, and all other sorts of wacky places!
Watch the chrysalis carefully and you will see it gradually change from bright green to dark to clear over the course of 10-14 days.
5. HAVE FLOWERS READY
Make sure you have different types of blooming flowers available for when they eclose from their chrysalis. They will need nectar after drying their wings, a process that can take a few hours.
Once they are ready to fly, enjoy watching them flutter around and hopefully they will be back to start the entire process over again with the second generation!
Books to read while learning the life cycle of the Monarch:
- The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
- The Very Impatient Caterpillar by Ross Burach
If you prefer to raise the caterpillars indoors:
For a list of host and nectar plants along with more info on creating a butterfly garden: