The Story of our First Butterfly Rearing Experience

Posted by John Cohrac on

Its go time, we have the garden ready, we have looked up how to attract butterflies, and now we just needed to wait for spring to arrive.   I’m not one for dipping my toes in the water, if your going to dabble in something I say jump right in the water is fine.   So I started join butterfly groups, reading everything I could on Monarch Watch, Journey North, and the Monarch Joint Venture Websites.   Anything else I could find so that we could be ready for the Butterflies to arrive.  You know I used to collect those tent caterpillars as a kid and they were easy to find so why would this be any different?  

Butterflies by state coffee mug

So Starting in like March I think here I am checking Journey North 2, 3 or more times a day to see if anyone had reported sightings of Monarchs and how far North were they?   And of course; nothing, no change, zero, and yes just like a little kid thinking things would magically be different the next time I looked I continued this daily exercise in futility.   Much like watching grass grown or waiting for a pot to boil.  This too was excruciatingly unfulfilling.  In fact I began to think, oh my what if they don’t come, what if this is the year they stop.  As if suddenly the moment I am interested the world would change on a dime.   With each passing day the daylight lasted a little longer, and the waiting became a bit more dissapointing.  

Butterflies by state insulated tumbler

Give up you say?  No not me I doubled down, I checked twice as often, I read even more, I purchased magnifying glasses, and lights, and UV lights and anything else that would help to find the eggs and caterpillars.   You know if I looked hard enough and long enough, they would magically appear, because it could not be that it was too early, no I just was not looking hard enough.   Not even knowing what to look for everything started to look like it could be an egg.  I did not dare get a close-up picture or try to compare to the real thing.  No that would just be too disappointing, these Monarchs are never going to get here Ugggg!  

I mean what is wrong with these Butterflies, we had the most gorgeous Milkweed, great looking Plants, amazing flowers, and really the garden was quite enchanting as our Neighbor Jim put it.  In fact he mentioned we really needed to give him the enchanting garden tour.   But alas, No butterflies, these darn eggs did not hatch (Not because they were not eggs at all, no because I decided they were just duds).   We now have Milkweed everywhere, and Dill and parsley by the bushel (Yes turns out we were looking for more than just Monarchs).   

March came and go, and so too did April, and those Darn Butterflies are not here yet.  What the hell did we do wrong?  You know there have been 6 sightings on Journey North in Lancaster, so the Monarchs must be here, why are they not visiting us?  What's wrong with our Garden?  Do we smell funny?  Are we scaring them off by patrolling the garden like hawks?   What the hell, we planted all these plants, we water the garden, we keep it looking great, we added all the nectar plants, and still not a single Butterfly Visitor.   Oh now I am in a panic, what if… what if they don't come.  My wife will be so disappointed we wont have any caterpillars, no butterflies, and the experiment is a failure. 

So what do I do?  What any good Husband would do, I find a way to buy the caterpillars and have them shipped to us. Yep; I cheated!  We just could not have our first year with this garden be a bust we just could not have that happen.  

Butterfly valentine

So, I pulled the trigger, and 10 or 20 Monarch Caterpillars would soon be here.   Meanwhile we did see our first Butterfly, Not a Monarch mind you, where the hell are the Monarchs!   Our visitor was a Black Swallowtail, and I remember thinking man this thing loves the Dill, no flowers, but it is always sitting in the dill all day.   I had zero idea that my wife was also trying to get these butterflies to leave us some caterpillars.  

Without a care, I dutifully planted all the dill and parsley in the prime locations my wife directed me to and still not a single Monarch has shown up!   What the heck, its June, there have been sightings all around us, but no not one here.  Maybe we do smell?   Maybe we are scaring them off?   Like any other good human it just had to be our fault because after all you know we can control everything so if they are not here, then we must have done something wrong.

Well here we are almost end of June and Neighbor Jim finally convinced us to give him the Enchanted Garden tour.  So we did.  During this garden tour I noticed a lot and I mean a lot of little black worms on the dill and parsley.  I didnt say anything until Jim had left but as soon as he did I excitedly showed my wife, I said look at this I think we got some Caterpillars.    Who knew parsley and Dill.   Guess what?   She did, and she told me as much.   “What do you think I had you plant all that Dill and parsely for?”  she said.   I said I don't’ know I thought maybe you were going to do some pickling.   Nope not at all, she wanted the Swallowtail Butterflies.  

Well guess what we were about to go through a crazy learning curve.  We have 80 please caterpillars on our Dill and I was like awesome we are going to have so many Butterflies, this is so cool.  Ohh and yes I checked on them like every hour to make sure they were still growing strong.  Alas we had so much to learn.   Things went well for a few days, we found more and more caterpillars and they were growing and changing colors and it was pretty neat if I do say.   But then disaster strikes.  I begin noticing they numbers are dwindeling, and oh my whats eating our beautiful little worms?   It was the Cardinals, those damn cardinal snacking on our garden insects.   We tried small netting, big netting, ultimatly we learned what mose everyone else who had been doing this for years already knew and we read about but thought somehow we would do this on our own and be more successful. 

So here we are 7 days later and 80 had dropped to 5 Caterpillars that were almost fully grown and yes now inside an enclosure so they would make it the rest of the way.   Imagine how we felt, 5 out of 80, OMG that is a horrible success rate.  Then one day, Panic Omg all 5 are gone, what the hell we have the enclosure how did they get out?   Man we suck as Butterfly Gardeners.   Turns out not exactly they had left the plant and crawled way to the top of the enclosure and had already formed their Cacoon (OH yeah I know that may as well be a swear word in the Butterfly Circles)  As we would come to learn Butterlfies Make Chrysalis and Moths make cacoons.  Either way, we would soon have some Butterflies but where the hell are the Monarchs.  Still not one sign they were here and Journey North Maps had sightings posted all around us.  OMG they skipped us,  maybe we really do smell…

At least the Caterpillars I ordered would be here soon and at least we could raise them. 

Tune in soon for the continued tale of our first year Raising Monarch Butterflies.  Maybe we do smell?

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