By Livia Raulinaitis, Conservation Research Technician

The time has come again for The Dawes Arboretum to participate in the annual Monarch Watch initiative! Now through mid-October, staff and volunteers will be rearing and tagging Monarch Butterflies in preparation for their great migration to Mexico.

We invite you to become involved in this effort by bringing us your monarch caterpillars and chrysalides!

Monarch Caterpillars are easy to identify, due to their iconic yellow, black and white striped pattern. They possess two pairs of “tentacles,” one at their head and the other at their rear. They are usually found on milkweed plants as that is all they are able to eat. Monarch caterpillars should be handled very gently because they are fragile. It is best to lift them with a leaf rather than with your hands.

Chrysalides are generally bright green with a gold and black ridge toward the top and gold flecks along the bottom end. They have a black stem. As they mature, chrysalides will darken, and you may even see the pattern of the wing through them! At this stage, it is best not to move them because they may pop any second! Please only bring in chrysalides which may be easily moved. If they are attached to a permanent fixture please do not try to remove them as they are easily damaged!

Milkweeds come in a variety of statures and colors – most of them in our area have pink, purple or orange flowers. All milkweeds, when torn or broken, emit a sticky milky sap. All milkweeds also share a unique 2-part flower structure. The flowers are composed of an upward-facing corona and downward-facing petals. If a plant doesn’t have this structure, it’s not a milkweed!

Watch out! Milkweeds can be easily confused with Dogbane, a fake Milkweed! Dogbane also emits a milky sap and has similar-looking leaves to common milkweed. Dogbanes can be identified by their hairless purple or green stem and white flowers. Their leaves are commonly much thinner and more fragile than milkweed leaves.

If you are lucky enough to find some Monarch caterpillars or chrysalides this season, please contact Livia Raulinaitis at lhraulinaitis@dawesarb.org or call 740.323.2355 to arrange time to bring the caterpillars or chrysalides to The Arboretum. Space in the Butterfly nursery is limited so be sure to contact Livia in advance. If you bring caterpillars in, please ensure that they are in a clean container that provides plenty of air flow, such as kitchenware with air holes poked in, plastic terrariums with holes on the top or glass or plastic cups with a mesh screen attached at the mouth. Be sure that they are provided plenty of extra milkweed. Large caterpillars can eat a whole milkweed leaf in less than 4 minutes!

If you are collecting a chrysalis to bring us, please keep the following in mind:

  • Never try to remove the chrysalis from any structure
  • If the chrysalis is on something like a leaf or twig, simply break off the leaf or twig and bring the entire thing in to us. The chrysalides have to be hanging, so the leaf/twig will need to be draped over a cup or something when it is brought in.
  • If the chrysalis is attached to a rock, wall, the bark of a tree or a permanent garden fixture it should be left alone.

Please remember that if you choose to rear Monarchs yourself, do not take any caterpillars, chrysalides or milkweed from private property, including Arboretum property!

Interested in being even more involved? Talk to Leslie Bline (labline@dawesarb.org) about volunteering with the Monarch Watch program at The Arboretum! Remember to plant lots of milkweed and other native plants in your yard!

For any questions about our Monarch Watch program or bringing in a Monarch caterpillar and chrysalides, please contact Livia Raulinaitis. (link to email)