Butterfly FAQ: How to move a Monarch butterfly chrysalis

One of the most frequently asked questions we get this time of year, especially in a rebound season like 2015, is how to move a Monarch chrysalis.

Janine Robin wrote via email last week that she found six Monarch chrysalises in her backyard in Folsom, Louisiana.  “Most are in a safe spot, but two are on a large clay pot. They are secure, but in the afternoon sun for about three hours.  Should they be moved?”

Monarchs on pot

Two Monarch caterpillars made their chrysalis on Janine Robin’s outdoor pot. Photo by Janine Robin

Good question.   That’s a judgement call.   Caterpillars are pretty intelligent about locating their chrysalises in safe places.  But like all of us, sometimes they misjudge.

For example, the Queen chrysalis pictured below formed on the edge of my kitchen door.

Queen chrysalis on door

Queen chrysalis on door. Not a good spot to hatch a butterfly. Photo by Monika Maeckle

I didn’t even notice until today (and I looked for her!) when I found a smashed newborn Queen caught in the door.  Sadly, she perished.

So if the chrysalis is in a dangerous or inopportune spot–or, if you just want to witness the magical moment of eclosure, when it hatches–then yes.  Move it.

The tricky part is often getting the chrysalis OFF of the surface to which it is attached without damaging the chrysalis itself.

You may have noticed that before caterpillars make their chrysalis, they are very still and quiet for about a day.  I like to think that they are deep in thought during this transformative stage.  It must take a lot of concentration and mindfulness to morph caterpillar legs into butterfly wings.

But what’s actually happening is they are spinning a vast silk web that you often don’t notice.  If you rub your finger on the surface around the stiff, black cremaster, which serves as a hook to hold the chrysalis in place, you’ll feel a thin, soft layer of silk.  That’s what you need to gather up to remove the chrysalis safely.  See the slide show below to learn how.

How do you know if the chrysalis is in a dangerous spot?

Newborn Monarch butterfly

Newborn Monarch butterfly will hang for about two hours before ready to fly. Photo by Monika Maeckle

Consider that the newly hatched butterfly will spend about two hours hanging from its empty chrysalis shell while it’s wet, crumpled wings drop and form properly. It’s advantageous for the butterfly in this delicate state to have something to climb on or cling to–a stick, netting, paper towel, leaves.

Winds blow. Animals or people walk by and brush up on the butterflies–possibly knocking them off. As Janine Robin wrote today, “Of the two chrysalises on the large clay pot, the lower one either fell off or was brushed off by an armadillo, possum or raccoon….I think it’s damaged.” Robin said she was able to reattach the chrysalis with a spot of glue.

Also, if after hatching the butterflies fall and can’t climb back up (which seemingly could happen in the above pot and appears to be what happened with my Queen), their wings will dry crumpled and they will die. Having an easy-to-grab surface or twig/branch/leaf would definitely help hoist heavy, damp wings in the event of a fall.

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                     All slide show photos by Monika Maeckle

For more on this subject, see our previous post: Is moving a Monarch chrysalis OK? Yes, and here’s how to do it.

Meanwhile, check out the slide show above to master the tricky task of getting a chrysalis off the surface to which it is attached.  Good luck, and let us know how it goes.

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12 thoughts on “Butterfly FAQ: How to move a Monarch butterfly chrysalis

  1. Good article. We have protected oner 300 Monarchs to eclosure. You always find chrysalides in “the wrong” places. We use hobby pins to gather and wrap the silk at the cremaster and pin it to a pool noodle. We also have been successful for fallen chrysalides to super glue using a small amount (gel) to the cremaster to a ball of cotton then insert pin through cotton ball and pin to noodle. Super glue does not appear to have an adverse impact on eclosure.

  2. I have a caterpillar that became a chrysalis two days ago. Temperatures here are in the 50’s at night, high 70’s for the highs. I have a couple of questions.
    First, will this baby have time to eclose and fly to Mexico, or is she too late in the season? The peak of the migration has already happened here (Ohio). I am still seeing one butterfly per day.
    Second, I am driving to Charleston, WV tomorrow. Would it be advantageous to my baby for her to eclose a few hundred miles south of here, where it is still warmer?
    Moving her should be easy… she is hanging on the plastic frame of a ten gallon fish tank, and since the frame is black, I can readily see the webbing. I thought I might glue the webbing onto a safe surface in Charleston, perhaps.
    Thoughts?

    • Your call to move her relocate her or not. There’s no right answer. Nature can be cruel, but she could also catch a sunny,windy day and join her migrating brethren. Good luck!

      • I am still seeing one monarch a day. Until that stops, I will not move her. The chrysalis is still green. But we are looking at a whole week of temps below 70 degrees F. Two nights, the lows will be in the high forties.

        I am bringing the chrysalis indoors at night, hoping warmer nights will mean faster metabolism and development. We’ll see…

  3. I had 5 Monarch cats. 4 became butterflies, but the last one never hatched out. It has been 2 weeks and it is clear with black inside. Should I keep waiting or give up on it?

  4. Here in Tulsa, OK, we are having a late autumn, so I have two new chrisalis iinside. A freeze is predicted this next week. Can they possibly make it far enough south to survive? The cats appeared on the tropical sp. plants last week, so late ?? I brought them inside in a “brood bucket” to fiinish gorging and spin their chyslilis. I going to the Texas hill country next week. I will give them a ride that far????

  5. Hi Monika – I moved my chrysalides to a (hopefully) safer place on an Azalea tree, but they are hanging like xmas ornaments in the wind. Is this ok? Or should I tie them closer to the branches like hanging fruit? Thank you.

  6. The Monarch butterfly has emerged however hanging on to the chrysalis red fluid dripped. It is attached to the outside wall of my house in my yard. I am afraid a lizard will get it should I move it? If so how?

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