F.A.Q & Helpful Tips

What happens when I run out of Swan Plants?

Buy more or simply before you start raising monarchs, make sure you have a sufficient amount of plants ready.

You can never have enough, the key is to cover your seedlings and your plants that you have purchased and let them grow to a decent size before exposing them to the monarchs to lay eggs on. I would recommend an average size plant of 50cm per caterpillar. Regularly check on your plants and look for eggs each day on the underside of each leaf, any excess eggs remove and cull. As it’s nicer than seeing starving caterpillars running around in the long run when you have no more plants and making you feel worried and having to make emergency dashes to garden centres.

How to harvest your own seeds for the following season?

For the first time in years, I’ve managed to grow seed pods on my bigger mature plants. This is because I’ve used other swan plants as food and let some of my plants grow to a substantial size. I use organza bags (please see top left photo) that you can purchase from the $2 shop, you tie them over the seed pod and when they are ready the pod seeds will explode into the bag. These seeds then can be sown in punnet’s the following spring if kept dark and dry during winter months. This way your saving heaps of money, it takes time and effort, but so worth it! ๐ŸŒฑ๐Ÿ‘Œ๐Ÿผ

Can you feed your caterpillars pumpkin if you run out of swan plants?

Pumpkin is OK for emergencies, but not recommended for the entire life cycle. Best given in the last instar stage, (ie at least ten days old or more than 4 cm in length). Any earlier than this and the caterpillars will not get enough cardenolides (nutrients found inside the swan plant) and will not be able to successfully transition to adulthood. Beware also that their frass (poop) turns orange! I don’t ever give my caterpillars pumpkin as it makes them have deformed wings.  I cannot guarantee smaller caterpillars keeping away from the pumpkin too.   Pumpkin is like feeding your kids Coca-Cola each day, it has no health benefits, just makes them fat! Most caterpillars die trying to form a chrysalis and drop as they haven’t enough energy. Plus they need to ingest the toxicity from the swan plants, so predators don’t find them tasty to eat. This is another reason why I wrote my book to raise the importance of feeding caterpillars to healthy swan plants, as most days people say to me, they didn’t know pumpkin was bad for the caterpillars. I was one of the people years ago that tried my caterpillars on Pumpkin as I had run out of swan plants, I did this as someone told me.

How long do Monarch Butterflies live for?

The average lifespan is six to eight weeks for summer generations and six to eight months for winter generations.  Once the females and males have mated, and the eggs have been laid, their job is done for the butterfly kingdom.

Are Monarchs in decline in New Zealand?  

Yes, many areas around New Zealand have predators such as wasps, wasps do not eat caterpillars until they are large and worth eating.  It is also apparent in Christchurch that rats have been feasting on thousands of Monarchs in their overwintering trees. Monarchs don’t stand a chance when they are in their dormant sleeping state high up in the trees in large clusters.  Wings are then found the next morning on the ground below, as the predators only eat their abdomens.  During summer 2018/2019 there had been a dramatic decline in many parts of the country where no eggs where were being laid and people with large swan plants with sufficient leaves for the caterpillars were waiting in anticipation for eggs on their plants.

Are butterflies poisonous?

Some butterflies are such as the Monarch (Danaus plexippus). This is because in their previous life as a caterpillar they ate poisonous plants (Milkweed/Swanplant), making themselves poisonous as adult butterflies. Birds learn not to eat them as they can become sick. The stripes on the caterpillar act as a warning sign to the birds that they are poisonous too.

Do butterflies get cold? If so, how do they get warm?

Butterflies do not have the ability to maintain an internal body temperature and are there “cold-blooded.” They can increase their temperature by basking in direct sunlight. They generally require an air temperature of about 60 degrees F before they are able to fly. I always tell the children they are solar-powered, and they need heat from the sun to warm up their bodies before flying. They cannot fly in the rain as their wings become wet and make flying harder.

How can we help boost the population of the Monarch butterfly?

A good way to help is to plant swan plants seed early in greenhouses (or sunny rooms) in late winter or early spring. Ensure you cover the seedlings with a net as they grow to prevent the monarchs from laying eggs too early. Seedlings never recover if eaten so early. These plants will get very bushy around January and be ready for the monarchs to lay their eggs on if nurtured correctly and repotted.  Even if you have a very small garden or courtyard you can still do your bit to attract the bees and butterflies by having one or two hanging baskets or a plant pot with a few nectar flowers in it. 

Monarch Butterfly sittings are lower in New Zealand than in previous years.  We can all do our bit individually, as every little gesture makes a difference. Below are some tips for you to help boost the Monarch butterfly population, in our own schools and back gardens.

Are wasps dangerous to the caterpillars?

Wasps have been a big problem over the years around New Zealand, we have seen caterpillars being stung with our own eyes, which is awful to witness. I have even seen wasps sucking at the chrysalis until itโ€™s dead.  Wasps unfortunately are a major predator to the caterpillar as they feed their young live protein (caterpillars). You can protect your caterpillars from wasps by covering the plants with netting with very small wholes, purchase a caterpillar castle or bring them inside. Wasps do not fly far from their nests, so always keep a look at which directions they flew to as the nest will be close. Having wasps around has shown we have to release the control in our life, by trying to care for and save each and every Monarch as for some, their journey has come to an end and thereโ€™s nothing we can do its just nature doing its thing. Monarchs caterpillars/chrysalis are unfortunately a great food source for many insects and birds in the animal kingdom.  Although sad at times, I have learned that we must not get too attached to our Monarchs. A female butterfly can lay up to 400 eggs in her life, so even if two eggs develop into a healthy Monarch, thatโ€™s progress.

How we can help the Monarch Butterflies?

Instead of taking care of sick Monarchs, you can put your energies into growing more swan plants for the Monarchs to lay their eggs on.  For every sick butterfly, there are hundreds of more healthy ones flying around doing their job.  We have to be more sustainable, growing swan plants from seeds with love and nurture. Educate the children on the process of metamorphosis, so the next generation will then have a more caring approach and kindness towards the animal kingdom. We need to help the Monarchs for future generations to see the wonders nature has to offer us so close up. Adult butterflies pollinate flowers and caterpillars eat a large amount of plant material so they are important in the food chain. 

What do you do with newly eclosed winter Monarch Butterflies


Worrying about whether they should personally drive them to their local overwintering spots and what to feed them in the meantime. Monarchs generally do not need feeding within the first 24hrs. They have been flying to overwintering parks for many years. They intuitively know where to go, so please let nature do itโ€™s magic. I know your hearts are in the right place and you want to care for these amazing creatures as I have been known once to drive to a park with a newly enclosed Monarchs, but I was going anyway. You got to think of your carbon footprint, using petrol just for one monarch is not sustainable when they can fly own their own.

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Best thing anyone can do is place their new monarch butterfly on a flower outside in the sunshine, and when she/he is ready, they will fly away. Monarch butterflies can fly in temperatures over 15 degrees, on winters days.

Helpful Tips

*Avoid pesticides.
*DON’T feed caterpillars pumpkin, courgettes, or cucumbers, it makes them sick and deformed. Buy swan plants and plant them around your school, business, and community areas in a sunny sheltered spot.
*Plant nectar flowers at home, schools, community areas, and business gardens.
*Spread the word and get school children and pre-schoolers involved from an early age, having monarch butterflies around in classrooms and playgrounds.
*Educate people that the monarch butterfly is an endangered species and that we have to plant swan plants for monarchs to lay their eggs on, so they can reproduce. 
*Tag monarch butterflies, so we know more about their whereabouts.
*Buy a swan plant as a gift to a friend that has never raised monarchs before and one of your spare caterpillars to the plant. I’m sure they will soon become addicted!
*If you think you haven’t got enough plants for your caterpillars, remove the eggs. An average swan plant of 30 cm or 40 cm would only feed one caterpillar. You need to have quite a few plants as spares when you’re raising monarch caterpillars. 
*Cover the swan plants that you purchase in Spring with a net, resist the temptation of letting the female butterfly lay her eggs on plants that are tiny and will only last a few days once the caterpillar goes on a feeding mission. Let your plant get bushier with more leaves on, before removing the net. An average Monarch can lie around 400 eggs!! 
*Buy my excellent book, so you can find out so much more, and raise healthy Monarch Butterflies.

An Educational Guide on Monarch Butterflies

https://thebutterflymusketeers.com/2016/12/01/new-book-out-now/

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