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Tools For the Season

The Monarch Lab

Creating a workspace is not only fun but will help you stay organized. Through the course of the Monarch season you'll want to have access to all the resources you'll need to care for and record data should you want to participate in university studies to help Monarch recovery. 

Below is my lab. It is a collection for Monarch's in various stages of growth. Each late-stage caterpillar is isolated for their protection and provided fresh milkweed daily. Caterpillars quickly pupate and within 7-14 days to emerge (with luck). I keep clipboards (on the left) for each of the three studies I provide data for.

 

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My lab contains some 200 Ball jars. Each caterpillar should have its own virtual habitat. 

Keeping your caterpillars isolated will prevent cross contamination of OE spores and allow you to carefully watch their growth. Keeping caterpillars in captivity is not ideal and causes stress. Carefully consider where you set up your lab. You'll want good lighting but not direct sun. Good air circulation is strongly recommended as the caterpillars are already in a screened in jar. Keeping them covered protects from rain and hungry nocturnal predators which see these as little more than individually wrapped snacks.  

Organizing Your Lab  

Monarch caterpillars grow extremely fast. I organize my caterpillars in the following categories to provide each stage's needs.

                       

 

Record the day of collection, the day it entered the chrysalis phase, and the date your adult butterfly emerged. You'll need these dates at the end of the season for data reporting. Only the August - October generation is collected as this is the only data researchers will be using for study. 

Organizing your Monarchs A.jpg
Organizing your Monarchs B.jpg
Organizing your Monarchs C.jpg

Tools for Your Lab

One of the many benefits of creating and maintaining a monarch butterfly garden is to get to know your guests. Monarch butterflies not only tolerate people quite well, they appear almost interested in us. For gardeners looking to take their interest in Monarch's to a higher level, you'll need to create a tool kit for various stages of enjoying this beautiful creature.

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1.  Canning Jars

If you choose to take a caterpillar out of the wild either for observation or to raise it until it becomes a butterfly - the container you choose is important.  I use glass canning jars with a top that is easily modified to allow fresh air to come and go. Canning jars are ideal as they allow you to remove the top and replace with screen wire. I turn the top upside down and press a screen wire piece in the opening, trace it with a sharpie and cut the screen to fit the lid. A hot glue gun is ideal to adhere the screen to top. A word of caution: glass jars can heat up in the sun in mere seconds; never leave a caterpillar in a jar out in the sun. Place either in complete shade or better yet an open garage. Leaving it outside risks a surprise rain shower and that can drown your caterpillar. Don't trust yourself to remember to bring them in - simply use a garage or covered porch.

2.  Painter's Tape

Painter's tape is useful in labeling your containers. It is easy to write on with a sharpie: when you harvested your caterpillar, what in-star you began captive care, and importantly, recording what plant your caterpillar was feeding on. The jar above housed a stage 5 caterpillar on September 13th after eating whorled milkweed before pupating on September 15th. A square of quilted paper towel will absorb fluids when the butterfly emerges (roughly 10-14 days) Removing painter's tape is easy and leaves no residue.

3. Sharpie Marker

Pencils break and pens don't always write when you only have one hand free. Works great on blue painter's tape, easy to read. 

4.  Wooden stick

A wooden chop stick will help you move leaves around the jar, remove frass during cleaning. Sound logical but you'll use it more than you realize. 

5.   Tweezers

Useful in removing old chrysalis casings from the screen on top of your specimen jars at the end of the season. Also perfect for lifting a chrysalis that has fallen from its silk pad.  

6.  Plastic Ziplock Bags

The last generation of Monarchs are the ones with valuable data for researchers. 70% of my caterpillars had parasitic flies

in 2021. Bags are used to collect fly larva

and the flies that hatch....and they will hatch.

7.  Toothbrush

Not for you but an effective tool to use for removing overpopulations of aphids without hurting your plants. 

8.   Scissors & Pruning Sheers

Plant maintenance and cuttings from milkweed for each day's feeding makes these most useful. 

Fun Fact:  Monarch caterpillars ingest cardenolides from                  milkweed. Predators who eat them may die from

              a heart attack.

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