Butterfly FAQ: Is Relocating a Monarch Chrysalis OK? Yes, and Here’s Tips On How to Handle Them With Care

A common quandary when blessed with the gift of caterpillars noshing nearby is whether or not it’s safe to relocate them once they form their chrysalis.

Tom Pelletier of the Ask A Naturalist website wrote today, explaining that six gorgeous Monarch caterpillars were busy at work on a milkweed plant in a yard adjacent to a high traffic sidewalk.

“Once the chrysalis is formed, can we move each one to a safer location in our back yard? Does it matter where the butterfly emerges, i.e.  does it have to be on milkweed?”

Monarch and Queen Chrysalises taped to Kitchen Counter

How do you think these Monarch and Queen chrysalises got here? They're adhered with tape.

The answers are yes, you may relocate the creatures once they make their chrysalis, and no, the caterpillars do not need to chrysalis on milkweed.  In fact, Monarch and other chrysalises often are found as far as 30 feet from the hostplant where they ate their last meal.

Entomologists speculate that caterpillars leave their host plants to protect themselves from predators.  “Caterpillars frequently strip the plant, so to form a chrysalis on a naked plant would leave them terribly exposed,” said Mike Quinn, an entomologist and founder of the Austin Butterfly Forum.  My unscientifc theory is that caterpillars need a quiet spot to transform themselves into a completely different lifeform. Growing wings and planning your first flight must require deep concentration.

Given the above, and the high incidence of caterpillar mortality caused by birds, spiders and other predators, I would be inclined to bring those caterpillars inside to assure they have the best chance of completing their life cycle.  You can feed them milkweed leaves and keep them in a clean container, then relocate the chrysalises once they’ve formed.

Jiminy Chrysalis! Monarch and Queen Chrysalis Tree. Thank you, dental floss.

Learn more about rearing Monarch butterfly caterpillars at the Monarch Watch website.

Those of us who raise caterpillars in our kitchens and gardens have been known to use pins, tape, glue, fishing line–and dental floss, my favorite–to fasten chrysalises to twigs, coffee stirrers, chopsticks, potted plants,  even the kitchen cabinet.

Why do we do it?   To ensure their completion of the life cycle is one reason.   But it’s also one of the most rewarding aspects of “butterflying.”  To witness eclosure, the moments surrounding a butterfly’s emergence from its chrysalis, is always magical.  The only way to do that is to have the chrysalis in captivity, where you can monitor its progress and not miss the miracle of metamorphosis.

When relocating a chrysalis, keep in mind:

1.  Putting them in direct sun–a hot window, for example–can damage their development.  A bright, protected spot is best. 
 
2.  Monarchs and other species need to hang vertically so that when they eclose, gravity can assist in their wings forming properly.   Swallowtails are different.  Try to emulate the chrysalis’ natural positioning as much as possible.
 
3.  Once the butterfly emerges, it needs several hours before it can fly. If you’ve brought it in the house to watch, leave the newborn alone until its wings harden up and it starts beating them slowly.  Then you can release it outside.
 
Eastern Swallowtail and Sister Chrysalis on a Chopstick

Eastern Swallowtail Butterfly and Sister Chrysalis adhered with nontoxic glue to a Chopstick.

An excellent resource for relocating chrysalises and reattaching them without causing harm is Shady Oak Butterfly Farm.   Edith Smith, butterfly meistress, and a member of the International Butterfly Breeders’ Organization, has been raising butterflies for decades and graciously shared the useful links below.  Thank you, Edith!

1.  How to move/relocate chrysalises
2. How to adhere chrysalises with glue
3. What to do if a soft chrysalis falls
4. How to reattach a swallowtail chrysalis
 If you have butterfly questions, leave a comment below, email us at butterflybeat@gmail.com or find and like us on Facebook
 

22 thoughts on “Butterfly FAQ: Is Relocating a Monarch Chrysalis OK? Yes, and Here’s Tips On How to Handle Them With Care

  1. Pingback: Ask a Naturalist.com » Can I move a monarch butterfly chrysalis?

    • Ken and Jody,
      As my mom used to say: you find what you’re looking for. I never noticed them until a few years ago when I started looking. Those gifts await you, just take a look. Thanks for writing.

    • Keep looking! We’re here in the Roslidale neighborhood of Boston, and I found this site while looking for info on how to care for a monarch chrysalis that was attached to one of our garden tomatoes. It’s September now, so when this little one hatches, she’ll be making the 1000 mile journey to Mexico!

  2. We recently planted milkweed plants & have seen caterpillars on them. Saw a chrysalis in Feb. but had a cold snap & it didn’t make it. I found a chrysalis under my picnic table yesterday & went to look today and it was gone. What could have happened to it? I am so disappointed.

    • Did you see a shell left behind? If it hatched you should be able to see the papery-thin shell where the chrysalis was hanging. It also could have fallen to the ground or been eaten by a predator–mice or something else. That’s why I like to bring them inside. It’s such a bummer when they’re lost late in the cycle. :-(

    • Very few caterpillars survive predators to make a chrysalis, and few of the chrysalis survive to hatch. So when you see those caterpillars, bring them inside. I have a mesh cage with a big potted milkweed inside the cage. I put the tiny cats on that plant and zip it up to keep them safe. But you can just put the cats in any container with a screen on top to keep them from crawling out keep adding fresh milkweed leaves daily. Keep it on a kitchen counter or table.They will make the chrysalis on the top screen.

  3. I need HELP!! I am new to the Butterfly World! I started a butterfly garden-Miami, Florida. I have had tons of caterpillars but I never see a chrysalis. Once and a while I will see a butterfly. The flower beds are plentiful with host plants. What am I doing wrong?

    • THey often leave the plant to make the chrysalis, but it’s also possible they are getting eaten by predators late in the game. If you want to witness the whole process, then bring them inside so you can keep an eye on them.

  4. I just found a chrysalis on one of my lawn chairs I was cleaning. I didn’t want to contaminate it with the chemicals I was using so without damaging it, I removed it. But I don’t know what to do with it now!? Can anyone help please?

    • You can use a non toxic glue to adhere it to a surface that allows it to hang properly so when it emerges its wings form properly. See my previous post on how to move a Monarch chrysalis.

  5. I found a caterpillar that had yellow and whit fur with random longer black streaks and its been in its cocoon for about a month. when I have been checking on it its moving on the pointy end, does this mean its trying to come out and cant or what?

  6. We have been blessed with four swallowtail caterpillars. We’vebeen watching them for a couple weeks as they have been changing, three on our small lime tree and one in a butterfly kit. The one in the container changed to chrysalis yesterday, one on the tree moved to patio and changed, one on tree changed overnight and the largest, not changed yet, we moved to the containe, anticipating its change very soon. We are in Dallas area.
    We are soooo excited waiting for our new butterfly friends

    • That’s tough. If they lay there too long, their wings will harden up and they won’t be able to fly. Sometimes if you take a stick and put it near their legs they will grab onto it and you can put them somewhere where they can hang vertically. Brutal, I know. –MM

  7. I’ve following your posts through my email for some time now. Just wanted to let you know you encouraged me to buy some milkweed plants this past spring. Although I have yet to see a monarch butterfly I have counted to date 26 monarch catipillars so I feel my contribution was well worth my effort. Tomorrow I’m going to search for chrysalis

  8. We found a late monarch caterpillar attached to a bush limb I had trimmed late this October. I brought it in and it has opened early this morning, November 4th. I know this must be a 4th generation female. I am in central.l Arkansas and we have had our first freeze which killed most flower blooms. Should I offer any supplemental sugar water before releasing outside? We have a forecast of heavy rain moving in from Oklahoma and Texas later today

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