We raised monarch butterflies this summer.
First, we gather leaves with monarch eggs on them from the milkweed plants that grow at a nearby pond.
You can turn the leaves over and the eggs are tiny, white dots on the backside.
We put the leaves on a plate and keep the leaves fresh by wrapping their steams in wet paper towels until the caterpillars hatch and begin to eat and grow.
Since the caterpillars need a lot of fresh milkweed, we start bringing home whole plants of milkweed every other day, keeping the plants in bottles of water.
Note: We keep the caterpillars from crawling down the stem and drowning inside the bottles of water by wrapping the stems in paper towel where they enter the bottles. This effectively plugs the hole like a cork plugs the hole in a wine bottle. The caterpillars usually stay on the plants until they are ready to form a chrysalis, unless they accidentally fall off.
If they fall off, they are easy to pick and put back on a leaf.
Once they are ready to form a chrysalis, they may crawl off the plant, down the bottle, and onto furniture or walls. But many just stay right on the plant and form their chrysalis there.
We learned how to carefully move the formed chrysalises using thread and a pin.
We wrapped a thread around the stem on the chrysalis. Then holding the string tied to the chrysalis, we used a pin to carefully detach the silk until the chrysalis was free, hanging by the thread we held.
This year, we moved almost our chrysalises to a "bouquet" of dry sticks, tying them there.
This bouquet we admired everyday throughout the day.
Finally, after about two weeks, the butterflies emerge from their chrysalises. Most of ours emerged with the dawn, so we often admired them as we woke up and drank our morning coffee or ate breakfast.
They hang for several hours before trying to fly away. Once they are ready to fly, it's obvious. They flap their wings over and over.
They can be coaxed onto your finger tip quite easily if you are careful and you can hold them as long as you want, as long as you are careful not to cause them to fall off your finger.
When you are ready or they appear ready to fly away, you can transfer them to a plant, flower, or bush outside.
Watching metamorphosis is a glorious, wonderful process that's rewarding to bring up close.
We successfully raised twenty-six monarchs this year.
Here are some of the best pictures we took from start to finish: