5 Ways to Prepare Monarch Caterpillar Food with Milkweed Cuttings
Since monarchs only dine on milkweed, you’d think presenting them with monarch caterpillar food would be simple, but…
Milkweed meals served the wrong way could mean more work for you and an increased chance for monarch diseases. Why not raise monarchs to truly thrive? Discover the simple solution we use for keeping milkweed fresh for days, while keeping caterpillars from crawling around in potentially disease-causing frass. (poop)
Milkweed stem cuttings can be taken in a variety of sizes, and placed in a variety of containers filled with water. Here are 7 options we use to help raise our monarchs with a consistent 95% survival rate.
Find the proceeding tools for serving monarch caterpillar food and other suggested raising supplies on our Top Raising Tools & Resources Page
1. Floral Tubes or Picks w/ Milkweed Stem Cuttings + Rack Holder (our preferred way of feeding caterpillars)
- Use a boot tray to carry the cuttings containers/caterpillars to a sink
- Fill the floral tubes with water and put the caps on
- Use a sharp pruner to take milkweed cuttings at a 45° angle for optimal water absorption.
- Take small cuttings (at least 3 sets of leaves) to midsize cuttings (up to 2 feet) cuttings. The cutting size you use will depend on milkweed availability, cage size, and caterpillar size.
- Rinse off the cuttings thoroughly under a faucet.
- Nick the sides of what will be the submerged stem (in 2-3 places) with a hand pruner to increase water entry and prevent wilting.
- Stick the cutting through the hole in the lid of your tubes
- Space out the floral tubes/picks in a floral tube rack (or find another way to keep them upright and secure)
- If cutting looks wilted after a few hours, try recutting at the bottom of the stem
Still suffering from wilted cuttings? 🥀 😠
- Take milkweed stem cuttings and place them in a glass filled with about 2″ of hot tap water for about 3-5 minutes before placing them in floral tubes or cutting containers or
- Take Smaller Cuttings
A. Floral Picks w/ Stem Cuttings, Egg Carton, Rocks
You could easily place 6-8 stem cuttings across an egg carton. Since the cartons are so light, place a couple rocks inside the empty carton to hold it in place. Space out the picks across the carton.
B. Floral Picks w/ Stem Cuttings, Food Storage Containers, Marbles/Vase Fillers
Pierce the middle of the storage container lid with a sharp knife, than stick a phillips head screwdriver through the hole. Put marbles or vase fillers inside the container and put on the lid. The marbles/vase fillers will hold each pick in place and keep the cutting upright.
C. Floral Picks, Styrofoam Cooler lid, Rock
Use a raised styrofoam lid so the floral picks won’t pierce the cage floor. Place a flat rock in the middle of the lid to keep it in place.
D. Food Storage Containers, Marbles/Vase Fillers
Use the same food storage container as B, but this time put the cuttings directly through each lid hole. If there are any small holes the caterpillar could crawl through, cover them with small strips of duct tape after the cutting has been inserted into the water.
If you want a container that holds more water use a wider container (ie food container, short jar) instead of a taller container (ie gatorade bottle, water bottle) because tall containers are more likely to tip over. 😱
note: a jar opening would need to be covered with plastic wrap with stems stuck through to avoid accidental drownings.
E. Floral Picks, Food Storage Containers, Marbles/Vase Fillers
Leaf cuttings can be effective for keeping single common or swamp milkweed leaves fresh to hatch eggs or feed small caterpillars.
Don’t use the food storage container lid so you can angle the floral pick in the container. This allows the common milkweed leaf to sit in a horizontal position, which is convenient for placing monarch eggs or caterpillars:
You could also try putting in 2-3 leaves of other varieties with smaller petioles. This insures the tube hole will be filled to capacity and prevent potential drowning accidents
TIP: leaf petioles are short, but if you cut along the midrib of the leaf (on both sides) you can stick the leaf in further for less refilling.
Use a cup or glass that allows the top of the floral pick to come just above the rim of the glass and it will stay (somewhat) securely in place, though not like in the racks.
G. Floral Pick Cuttings in Potted Milkweed Plants
Some who raise caterpillars on potted plants also stick the floral pick cutting in the potted soil, so caterpillars can crawl on to the large plant after the milkweed cutting is devoured.
The caterpillar feeding method we use (and recommend for best results) is using large floral tubes inside secure holding racks. You can find those here:
If you’d like to learn more about raising healthy monarch butterflies, check out my 2020 Revised Print or PDF Raise More Monarchs with Less Effort Book