Are You Ready To Raise Monarch Butterflies for the 2023 Monarch Migration?
Supply List For Raising Monarchs
Welcome to Raise the Migration 2023, where you’ll be raising magnificent monarch butterflies to help increase the number of monarchs that will be overwintering in the mountains of Mexico and coastal California.
My name is Tony Gomez, and I’ve raised thousands of monarchs over the past 40 years. My goal is to help you learn how to raise more monarchs with less effort, while helping the struggling monarch population recover so that one day it can thrive again across North America. Here are more details about Raise the Migration, including my suggested supply list for raising monarch butterflies…
Who is Raise the Migration for? It’s for:
- those concerned with saving the monarch migration for future generations
- those who want to raise healthier monarch butterflies
- anyone looking for a more efficient process to raise monarchs
- Parents looking for a fun, active, and educational activity for kids
- Kids who love nature and want to learn how to nurture it
- School teachers looking for an exciting (and educational!) way to start the school year
- Retirees looking to reconnect with nature
- Those interested in joining a passionate community of Monarch Enthusiasts who want to make a difference
Feel free to share this post with others you think would be interested in participating!
How Many Monarchs Will You Raise?
This challenge was created for anyone raising between 1-20 monarchs at one time. If you want to raise more, I recommend using additional habitat cages to avoid potential diseases caused by overcrowding.
Do You Have To Start On An Exact Date?
It’s unlikely that we would all have new monarch eggs on exactly the same date. Therefore, I will start sending tips during the earliest part of the migration, so you can refer to them when you have monarch eggs or caterpillars secured.
My official start date is Saturday, July 8th, 2023. This should allow most northerners to still participate and get their monarchs headed south before the weather becomes an issue. I will send out a kick-off email when Raise The Migration begins.
When Will The Monarch Migration Be In Your Region?
Check out this monarch migration chart from Monarch Watch. I would recommend releasing your butterflies no more than 2 weeks after the last date of your peak migration. My latitude in Minneapolis is 45° N so my last peak date is September 10. This means I will try to release my last butterflies by September 24th.
You do not need to follow along in real-time to participate! Refer to the raise emails you will be receiving and start at a time that makes sense for your your region.
Does It Matter Where You Raise Them?
Keep in mind, cool nights below 50° F will slow down the metamorphic process. It’s very possible to have cooler nights in late summer (especially north) so bring your cage indoors on these nights, if there is concern the window for release is closing.
That being said, it’s important to expose them to as much natural light, heat, and humidity as possible so they receive the migratory cues that encourage migration upon release.
Before we get started, you will need to get set up with a few basic supplies. These supplies will help you raise monarchs for years to come, and they should fit most budgets. Some of you might not need to spend anything if you’ve already got the supplies at home.
Here are the butterfly raising tools we suggest to make raising migration butterflies easier, less time-consuming, and ultimately more enjoyable.
Food storage containers are an excellent starting place to keep track of monarch eggs and small caterpillars without the leaves drying out. Checking on eggs or baby caterpillars once a day allows more than sufficient oxygen levels in a sealed container:
1a. Monarch Egg Hatcheries (The container sizes we use most often are 9″ x 9″ x 3″ and 11″ x 7″ x 3″.)
To raise migration butterflies “the easy way” requires a cage that can hold a potted milkweed plant or stem cuttings. Check out these next four options…
If you want to raise up to 10 caterpillars and plan to raise exclusively on smaller cuttings or individual leaves, the small pop up cage should suit your raising needs:
If you want to raise up to 10 caterpillars and plan to raise on larger milkweed cuttings or small potted milkweed plant, this tall pop up cage should suit your raising needs:
If you want to raise 10-20 caterpillars and plan to raise on larger milkweed cuttings or small potted plants, this cage size should suit your raising needs:
If you want to raise 10-20 caterpillars and plan to raise on larger cuttings or potted plants, this cage size should suit your raising needs:
1f. Buy POO POO Platter Caterpillar Cage Cleaner for Easy Cleaning
There are now TWO sizes of platters:
please review platters to see which cages they are for before purchase:
1g. If you’d like your cages elevated for less bending over, this 48″ by 24″ adjustable-height table can hold two of our largest cages or several smaller ones.
1h. If you want to keep a tabled cage in place (safe from curious cats 🐈 or accidental bumps) try putting a heavy rock or paver brick inside the cage to keep it in place
If you haven’t signed up to participate in Raise the Migration 2023, sign up here to receive free raising tips delivered to your email inbox.
If you want to raise monarch butterflies on milkweed with the least amount of effort, you have two options:
- milkweed stem or leaf cuttings from outdoor potted or garden plants (my recommendation)
- potted milkweed plants with healthy leaves
The best place to find milkweed plants is in your garden or from a local nursery that doesn’t spray with harmful pesticides. Remember, systemic pesticides can't be rinsed off immediately and can remain inside the milkweed leaves for months.
2a. Tropical Milkweed (Asclepias curassavica)– this seems to be the preferred egg laying milkweed late in the season. It’s also easy to pot if you have some in your garden. Tropical works well for leaf or stem cuttings.
2b. Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)– first and second year plants are usually the best options since many still have fresh leaves late in the season. Swamp works well for leaf or stem cuttings.
2c. Giant Swan Plant (Gomphocarpus physocarpus)– this milkweed always has viable, healthy leaves late in the season and works well for stem cuttings.
2d. Swan Plant (Gomphocarpus fruticous)– this milkweed always has viable, healthy leaves late in the season and works well for stem cuttings.
2e. Giant Milkweed (Calotropis gigantea)– this is not widely available but could be an option in southern regions. We've successfully grown giant milkweed as an annual in our Minnesota garden. These plants would be a viable option for feeding caterpillars if we needed them.
2f. Popular native species like Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) and Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) are often past their prime by late summer. However, you can use any milkweed species if the leaves are still green and appear healthy.
1-2 monarch caterpillars can devour an entire milkweed plant. Keep this in mind when deciding how many monarchs you want to raise.
If you can’t find pesticide-free milkweed plants locally, some of the suggested stores on this resource page might have plants in stock:
note: The sap from milkweed is toxic and can cause corneal damaged if rubbed into your eyes. Always wash your hands after handling milkweed…
Some choose to take the extra precaution of wearing disposable gloves when handling milkweed to avoid potential issues.
Monarch Eggs & Caterpillars
During the past decade, it has become increasingly difficult to find monarch eggs in gardens, parks, etc., so there are alternative options if you can’t find them locally.
note: USDA prohibits vendors from shipping west of the continental divide. Option 3c is a western option located in California. Before ordering, make sure the vendor delivers to your state:
3c. Eggs & Caterpillars for AZ, CA, CO, ID, NM, OR, UT, WA, WY (no western vendors known at this time)
More Raising Supplies + Grocery List
The uses for these supplies will be explained (in detail) during Raise the Migration:
Choose one of the following two options for feeding munching monarch caterpillars:
4. Plastic bottle, glass jar, or vase to place large stem cuttings cuttings to feed caterpillars
5a. Large Floral Tubes with Holding Rack for larger milkweed cuttings to feed caterpillars (my #1 recommendation for less refilling and spacing caterpillars out)
Even if you start raising on potted plants, there’s a chance you could be using milkweed stem/leaf cuttings by the end of the feeding frenzy.
5b. Little Hole LIDS floral tube lids with smaller holes for thin-stemmed cuttings or leaf cuttings to prevent baby caterpillar drownings. These lids fit our large floral tubes so you switch out lids as needed.
5c. Floral Tube Cleaning Brush is a helpful tool to clean out dirt and grime that collects in the floral tubes
6. Boot Trays to carry cuttings containers or floral tube racks (with milkweed and caterpillars) to a sink to refill floral tubes or containers with water and rinse off any 💩.
7. Curved Tip Syringe without needle for refilling floral tubes/picks. These 12ml syringes are optional, but allow you to refill floral tubes without removing tubes/racks/caterpillars from the cage.
8. Monarch Magnifying Glass– many have reported difficulties finding eggs or locating baby caterpillars because they are so tiny. Get a Monarch magnifier and finally see what you’ve been missing. 🔎🐛
9. Pruning snips to take milkweed cuttings for caterpillars
10a. Plastic wrap to cover water-filled bottles/vases (if using this option to hold milkweed cuttings). Floral tubes with racks work better for spacing out caterpillars
10b. Rubber bands to secure plastic wrap on bottles/vases
12. Duct Tape
13. Cotton Balls or Cotton Pads for feeding adult butterflies
Choose one of the following 5 options in case you have to feed adult butterflies before releasing them:
14a. Use floral tubes with holding rack to offer adult monarchs cut nectar flowers (easy option if you already have tubes/rack to feed caterpillars)
14b. Honey or Sugar for making nectar or
14c. Hummingbird nectar (easy option if you already use a hummingbird feeder)
14d. Orange or Watermelon slices
14e. Gatorade can also be used to feed adult butterflies. Melon flavored gatorade has been suggested by universities.
15. Paper Towels for cleaning/drying and lining sealed food containers (regular non-scented)
17. Cordless Computer Keyboard Vacuum this is a fantastic tool for sucking up frass from the cage floor. It has just the right amount of suction and is easy to empty and clean. We use the black version that several vendors offer for less than $30…highly recommended cage cleaning tool!
19. Raise The Migration T-shirts in a multitude of styles, colors, and sizes.
Some of these items are optional (depending on your raising set up) and some of these items will already be in your home. Being prepared in advance will give you more time to enjoy this amazing experience…