Monarch Rearing Update

Last week I posted about the kids collecting 10 Monarch eggs from a milkweed patch up the road. Below is our set-up as of yesterday. We currently have 8 monarch larvae in the tank munching on common milkweed.

We modeled our set-up this year after the lead naturalist’s rearing tank at Fontana Nature Center (where Coralee & I both volunteer). It has worked out wonderfully!  [Big shout-out to my father-in-law: thank-you for the tank, it’s perfect!!!] The dead pine needles in the bottom seem to keep everything much more clean than any other bedding we’ve used in the past. Keeping the milkweed cuttings (the monarch caterpillar’s food source) in old plastic containers filled with water also cuts down considerably on milkweed harvest trips.

After we collected the eggs off the undersides of several plants (a female monarch tends to only lay one egg per plant & she will lay about 100 eggs total–that’s a lot of milkweed!), we placed damp paper towels in the bottom of several plastic containers (one per child) & then placed the leaves with the eggs on top & sealed the container.  Yes, seal the lid.  Don’t worry about air intake–as the naturalist told us during our training last year, the leaves put off enough oxygen for the brief stint in the container (3-4 days at most).

Close-up of a monarch egg.  The eggs are cream-colored, almost a pale yellow.  Usually found on the underside of young milkweed leaves (the top of the plant is your best bet, usually one that has not flowered yet).  The shape is more oblong than circular & sports ridges.  Better egg photos here.IMG_4924[1]
Incubation in progress.IMG_4925[1]

This is a photo of an egg not ready to hatch (see smaller leaf) & one of Merritt’s that was just about ready to hatch (see bottom of larger leaf)–notice how it has turned darker?  It hatched within a couple hours.IMG_4927[1]

This is the first larva to hatch (one of June’s).IMG_4926[1]

And now here we are today.

Several second larval instars on each leaf. IMG_4929[1]

The kids are very excited for bigger instar stages–makes photographing more interesting, too!  These guys are so tiny!

Good description of the instar stages found on the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project’s webpage, second instar page here.

I asked the lead Fontana naturalist last year if the Monarch butterfly actually needs people to collect eggs & rear them artificially–she said no, but it’s a good education tool & doesn’t hurt.  What does the Monarch butterfly really need?  MORE HABITAT.  MORE MILKWEED.  Especially in Iowa where we live…’Roundup Ready’ cornfields do not a monarch habitat make…and continually mowing the ditches all season long doesn’t help, either.  The rural ditches are some of the best places to find milkweed in Iowa now as most fields are planted fence row to fence row here.  Planting milkweed (be sure it is a species native to your area), setting up a Monarch Waystation, or monitoring a patch of milkweed are all great ways to further the cause to save the monarch!  I recently learned there is an Iowa State University-funded project taking place in my county to plant large native prairie strips among the corn in hopes of providing viable habitat for not only pollinators, but also birds & other native wildlife.

Gives me hope that all is not lost, yet. 🙂


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