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Monarch butterfly raised and released

Success again!

Here is a female monarch butterfly that emerged from its chrysalis two days ago.

Today we released the female monarch butterfly from the pop up hamper that was her temporary home.As soon as the temperature was warm enough and we had blue skies and a soft, pleasant breeze, we knew the time was right.

I always have bittersweet feelings when we release the butterflies after raising them from caterpillars through chrysalis stage.

Because once we discover the caterpillars on milkweed we have growing, we always keep them safe and fed. So I worry about how they will survive once they are free.

I discovered the butterfly while she was still a caterpillar, on one of the milkweed plants we have growing in the backyard. Her mother had laid her egg (or eggs) on the Asclepias speciosa 'Davis'"Davis Milkweed".

That plant was not growing. It just had a few leaves on it, and they didn't look healthy. Parts of the leaves looked like they had mold or mildew on them.

Yet there it was, a bright yellow, white and black caterpillar about 1 inch long, munching on the sad looking last leaf on the "Davis Milkweed".

We quickly cut off the stem of that leaf with the caterpillar sitting on it, and placed the leaf in another container where a lush, healthy milkweed plant is growing, a California Narrowleaf Milkweed Asclepias fascicularis. Then we put a thin, tall, arched bamboo stick in the container (you can get these at gardening stores), and covered the whole container with bridal veil mesh, securing it around the container with a bungee cord. We did this to protect the caterpillar from predators such as wasps.

That evening the caterpillar went into its fifth instar stage, and remained motionless for two days.

After that it munched and munched on the leaves of the Narrowleaf Milkweed until it grew quite plump and long. At that point it measured about 1 1/2 inches long.

A few days later the caterpillar became quite restless, looking for a good spot to weave its silken patch to anchor itself and prepare for chrysalis mode. That evening it was in the "j" shape, hanging from its silken patch. And the next evening it had turned into a beautiful jade green chrysalis.

We cut the milkweed branch from which the chrysalis was hanging, and taped the ends to a thin wooden dowel that we suspended in a large mesh pop-up laundry hamper that has a mesh top. We put a clean towel at the bottom of the hamper so that if the butterfly should fall down, it wouldn't get injured.

After nine days, the chrysalis turned very dark. One the tenth day it was black.

A few hours later, in the late afternoon, the butterfly emerged from its chrysalis. It hung from the chrysalis for a while, drying its wings (see first photo at the beginning of this post).

We decided to release the butterfly the next day (yesterday).

But after doing some research, we learned that the September monarchs should be given some nutrition before release because they have fewer nectar plants for their food. They should be fed once or twice a day until they are released. This way they have enough resources in their body to help them migrate, which is what the monarchs born in September tend to do. They are the ones that are the fourth generation, and likely to migrate to Mexico from California for the winter.

This makes a lot of sense, because you can see in your own garden that at this time of year most plants have fewer blossoms than they did just a few weeks ago.

We mixed together with a clean spoon some organic honey and tepid filtered water: 1 teaspoon honey to 6 teaspoons of water. We stirred the mixture well in a glass. Then we poured the mixture through a clean paper towel (we use unbleached paper towels) into another glass so that there would be no lumps in it.

Then we poured some of the filtered mixture into a clean flat bottle cap.

We gentle picked up the butterfly, holding all four wings together and held it in front of the cap with the honey water. We gently unrolled its proboscis with a thin wooden skewer and guided the proboscis into the honey water. You can tell from the pumping motion of the proboscis that the butterfly is drinking.

We fed the butterfly with honey water twice yesterday and once late this morning prior to its release.

We learned how to feed the monarch butterfly by watching this video.

Thanks to Mr. Lund we learned a lot!

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