It takes about thirty days (depending upon the weather) from egg to butterfly.
You need to plant milkweeds (asclepias), the only host plant for the monarch butterfly. A host plant is a plant that supplies food resources.
Plant the milkweed and they will come
If you plant the milkweed and leave it alone, ten percent, on average, of the eggs/caterpillars that feed on it, will turn into monarchs. This is in the Wild.
Place seeds 1/8 inch below the soil surface. Don’t plant the seeds too deep because they need plenty of light and warmth to germinate and grow. (70+ degrees) Keep the seedlings moist for the first three weeks. You can fertilize them once a week after the seedling stage with regular flower fertilizer but it is not necessary. Cutting off the top of the plant creates more stalks and more leaves. From seed, it takes at least two months before the plant is large enough for caterpillars to eat. After the leaves have been eaten, simply cut the plant off several inches above the soil or lowest branching of the stalk and the plant will grow back fuller.
Warning: one caterpillar will eat 20+ large leaves, so make sure you have enough plants to support the number of caterpillar you have, or they will starve. Always plan ahead and grown more than you think you need.
Once you have some milkweed in your yard, plan on a few months for a good size, check the underside of the leaves for eggs. This is where they are laid.
They are small and white, the size of a pin head and oval in shape. Very distinctive.
Eggs hatch within 5 days of being laid.
When a dark spot forms on the top of the egg, and becomes translucent, the egg is ripe. The head of the caterpillar will emerge out of the black spot and then proceed to eat the eggshell.
Caterpillars are teeny tiny when first hatched but grow quickly.
The will shed their skin 4 times before it is ready to form its chrysalis. This is called pupating. This takes approx. 14 days for all 4 stages of molting to occur.
When the caterpillar in this molting stage, it hardly moves at all for a few hours but eventually sheds this exoskeleton.
It needs to do this in order to get larger.
After it has shed or molted for the 4th time, it will quit eating and begin to look for a place to transform into a chrysalis. This can take all day. (Keep spider webs out of your yard because they can trap the caterpillar and also the butterfly.)
You know when it finds a place because it will hang upside down, in a J shape attached with threads of silk that it has made. It can hang like this for 24 hours. Do not touch it now.
After 2 weeks in the chrysalis, it will turn from its green color to a dark black and you can see it is a bit transparent now and the dark color are the wings of the butterfly. One day after it turns, the butterfly will emerge, usually in the late morning.
If the chrysalis falls or breaks from where it is attached, reattach it to something with a thread. The newly emerged butterfly needs to hang upside down for a few hours to dry and pump blood into its wings.
The larvae and pupae can be below 60 deg F. Usually monarchs fly at 50 to 55F. Larva/pupa can survive down to 32F, maybe lower. They grow between approximately 55F and 95F. 108F appears to be their upper limit.
(Source: Defenders of Wildlife) They will sit in the sun or "shiver" their wings to warm up. If they stay dry, monarchs can survive below-freezing temperatures. If they get wet and the temperature drops, they will freeze to death. (Source: Defenders of Wildlife)
The hotter the weather the sooner the butterfly will emerge.
The 4th generation that will be born this year, in the fall, will hibernate and will come out of hibernation in approx. December or January of the following year.
It will look for a mate then migrate north and east to lay their eggs. Some stay here and will lay their eggs. This normally happens in January. These new eggs will be the First Generation.
The monarchs will emerge as butterflies and fly away, look for a mate, lay eggs for Generation Two and die. This encompasses two to six weeks. A short life.
The Second Generation, born in May and June and the Third Generations born in July and August will repeat everything the First Generation did.
The Fourth Generation, (sometimes, even the third generation) will repeat everything as above EXCEPT it will live six to eight months instead of two to six weeks.
The Fourth Generation must migrate to warmer climates or it will not survive the cold winters.
They start their migrations in October, more or less, and head southwest to California or Mexico. (MOST monarchs west of the Rockies go to California but some fly to Mexico, especially through Arizona.) East of the Rockies, they head to Michoacan Mexico and hibernate in the oyamel fir trees. West of the Rockies they head to the area of Pacific Grove California, by Monterey in Northern California and they hibernate in the eucalyptus trees.
Regarding the fourth generation and migration. It can be as few as three generations or more than four, but four is the most common. An unknown number of monarchs heading south on their migration in the fall break diapause and start breeding in the southern part of the United States. Their offspring then migrate. From the Southwest Monarch Study www.swmonarchs.org in Arizona, monarchs can migrate as early as the first week of September through mid-October. In 2014, one left Arizona in November and it was sited in Kino Bay in mid-December.
They use the same trees every year.
This Fourth Generation migrates 3,000 miles each year. The only insect that does this.
Tachinid flies and braconid wasps are two parasitoids that feed on and kill monarchs. These parasitoids lay their eggs on the caterpillars.
Tachinid fly larvae feed on monarch caterpillars, but usually don’t kill their hosts until just before the caterpillars pupate. When a parasitized caterpillar hangs upside down in the pre-pupal “J”-shape, several tachinid fly larvae or maggots will come out of the monarch caterpillar. The fly maggots drop to the ground on long, gel-like threads. This also happens from the chrysalis.
Braconid wasps do not parasitize monarchs as often as tachinid flies. When braconids do attack monarchs they can produce as many as 32 tiny adult wasps from a single butterfly. Very little is known about how frequently various invertebrate parasites and predators harm monarchs in different parts of their range.
And one more problem I encountered was OE. Ophryocystis elektroscirrha (OE).
This is a protozoan parasite that infects monarch and queen butterflies. OE isn’t an animal or a plant, but a protozoan, a single celled organism.
It only affects Monarch and Queen butterflies and is said to have coevolved with the monarchs. OE cannot live without this host.
If you find you have OE, after you have gone through a cycle of butterflies in your butterfly house, wash everything down, including the plants, with a weak 10-15% bleach solution. Pour the left over water in the potted plant. It will not harm the plant. Now you can start the cycle over.
Here is a link to OE and hope you never get it as it is harder to eradicate than the other parasites. http://monarchparasites.uga.edu/whatisOE/
Please contact Have Hammer Will Travel if you would like them to make you a butterfly house for your yard. They are approximately 36 inches cubed and screened in so you can watch the entire monarch cycle.
Visit the Facebook Page for Monarchs in Chapala to keep up to date on Monarch Research. No need to have a facebook account.