A frequent question this time of year: what to do with a late season butterfly?
Crazy, unpredictable weather has become routine. “Fall” is an extension of a lesser summer while “Winter” constitutes cool evenings and days punctuated by sunshine and temperatures that climb into the 70s. For mariposistas–those of us who love butterflies and enjoy raising them at home–the blending of the seasons is a mixed bag.
Here’s the good news: as long as host plant is available, butterflies will lay eggs, resulting in caterpillars and future flyers. That means more butterflies, even in November and December.
The tough part comes when the butterflies hatch and it’s freezing outside. Generally, butterflies won’t fly when temperatures are less than 55 or 60 degrees. And after spending weeks fostering an egg, then a caterpillar, and finally a chrysalis to the point of becoming a butterfly, the idea of unleashing it into a cold, wintery wind seems brutally unacceptable.
Unfortunately, when weather turns harsh for butterflies, we can’t all take the route of Maraleen Manos-Jones, the “butterfly lady” of Shokan, New York. Last November, Manos-Jones convinced Southwest Airlines to fly her and a late season Monarch to San Antonio so the creature might have a better chance of joining her butterfly siblings to roost in the mountains of Michoacán for the winter. Read that amazing story here.
Just last week, I experienced a similar conundrum: a dozen Queen chrysalises had hatched from eggs collected in late October. But as they emerged and readied for flight, a serious cold front hit San Antonio, dropping temperatures into the 30s.
The cold spell would remain for several days–and then, temperatures would climb into the 70s. What to do with the butterflies in the meantime? They had to eat.
I brought in cut flowers and laid out a spread of overripe fruit in the butterfly cage. Cotton balls soaked in sugar-water and apple juice were strewn on shallow dishes.
The butterflies refused my nectar feast.
On day three, I turned to my butterfly breeder friend Connie Hodson of Flutterby Gardens in Florida. Connie has raised tens of thousands of butterflies and has moody weather in Tampa Bay similar to ours in South Texas.
Hodson recommended sponges–scrubbers, actually–soaked in grape- or punch-flavored Gatorade laid out in shallow dishes in the butterfly cage. Since butterflies taste with their feet, you have to set them on the sponge so they can “taste” the fake nectar, whetting their appetite. At that point, they will extend their long proboscis and slurp some fuel to power their flight.
If the butterflies resist the sponge or scrubber, Hodson suggests taking a Q-tip, dipping it in the Gatorade and gently touching the creatures’ proboscis so they get the hang of it.
“They’re not hungry for the first 24 – 48 hours,” Hodson assured me by phone. “Give it a try.”
I did, and it worked. Two days after the Gatorade buffet, temperatures climbed into the high 60s. On that sunny Friday, I took the cages outside, unzipped the door, and off they went.
- Yo Soy Mariposista!
- Desperatey Seeking Milkweed: Monarch Caterpillars Appetites Create Milkweed Emergency
- Butterfly Farmer Edith Smith Keeps it All in the Family at Shady Oak Butterfly Farm
- How to Raise Monarch Butterflies at Home
- Part II: More Tips on Raising Monarch Caterpillars and Butterflies at Home
- Tropical Milkweed: To Plant it or Not is No Simple Question
- Oh Those Crazy Chrysalises: Caterpillars in Surprising Places
- Butterfly FAQ: Is it OK to Move a Chrysalis? Yes, and here’s how to do it
- Should You Bring in a Late Season Caterpillar into Your Home?
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Oh what a lovely story!!!
Thank you so much for sharing this with me.
I’m sharing yours with friends.
I agree it is lovely. I am in fact an entomologist( insect expert). The reason with them staying late could be due to tempature. If the temp suddenly drops, it could be bad for them.
Thank you so much for this very informative and helpful article. I currently have a Fritillary chrysalis in a cage inside the house. I’m keeping it inside were it’s continuously over 67 degrees, hoping it will emerge before the next cold front. On warm days I put it back outside to soak up the warmth. Now I won’t have to be as concerned if it doesnt’t emerge before the next cold front. Yesterday I saw a Monarch, Queen, and G. Fritillary oviposit eggs and was contemplating raising them but was fearful about weather conditions when they emerge. Because of your article I can make a more informed decision. Did Ms. Hodson mention the length of time she has fed butterflies by this method? I really appreciate all that you do and your wonderful articles.
Great article, Monika.
Sincere Thanks for this post. This is my first attempt at saving a caterpillar [actually 4] and this AM, the first monarch spread its wings. I was back in “mom” mode, nurturing, wondering to put in makeshift habitat. Monica, your post came at the PERFECT time, as tomorrow AM, I will have 3 more butterflies as tonight, the chystallis is dark – I am stoked. Off to the store in the AM to get some web sponges. Sincere thanks from Bryan/College Station!!!
Congratulations! They are truly amazing and resilient creatures and inspire us all. Oh, and you’re not so bad yourself. Keep us posted and good luck! MM
Monika, I read as much as I can but am concerned my new monarchs aren’t doing well. Three have emerged and wouldn’t eat or fly in my large cage. Outside one flew well but two stayed on a budelia all nite. It was 78degrees outside when I released them I have 5 more chrysalides and 5 more cats. I am getting worried as fear it will soon be too cold. I am in Sebastopol CA. Any advice?
Not sure what to tell you. It’s always tough late in the season and there’s no way to know what the problem is without seeing them are somehow inspecting them. Sorry I can’t be more helpful. Good luck.
Muriel, I am just seeing your October post, so this is a little late to help, but perhaps someone else might benefit. I live in Tampa, FL and currently have 11 chrysalises and 11 caterpillars. One of the chrysalises opened and the new monarch is flying in my sunroom, where all are kept. I keep a heater in the room to keep the temperature above 60. I soaked a slice of bread with tropical punch flavored Gatorade, placed in a small dish. I set the monarch on the edge of the dish, but it would not eat. Then I read that they taste with their feet, so I set him/her on the soaked bread and the minute the feet touched the liquid, feeding was on. It drank for about 5 minutes and now returns occasionally to get more. We expect temperatures to be in the 80 tomorrow, so I plan to release him then. Hopefully other chrysalises will open in time for the warm up. They should fly further south, towards Miami.
Gosh just the answer I need! I’m a novice at hostessing my butterfly habitat, living here in northern Florida. Today is 63 overcast feels like 55, would you release or wait a few days for the sun to come out with some Gatorade soaked sponges?
I’m near Conroe and have about 20 Gulf Fritillaries in chrysalis, some of which have been hanging around for more than a month.
They’re in a room where the temp stays about 60 degrees. Is it possible they WON’T emerge at all? Or not until the Spring?
Any words of wisdom about how to care for them?
where can I buy milkweed for south calif climate
home depot should have some
Buying from a local nursery is a better option. All plants at Home Depot, Lowes, and other big box stores heavily spray all of their plants with pesticides, fertilizers and other chemicals.
This is no longer happening. There are signs in our Home Depot that they do not spray their. Butterfly plants! Saved the day for me when I ran out of food for 8 Monarch caterpillars. 7 have made it to Chrysalis stage! 🤗👏
I know I am years late, but for new readers catching this article . Try not to buy milkweed from Home Depot
My caterpillars hit sick and died from the ones I bought at HD.
Thank you for this information. I live in Central Florida and have had quite a few Milkweed plants bloom, and therefore, more catapillars have hatched and started to eat the leaves. Unfortunately, it is estimated to freeze here in a few days. Do you have any suggestions as to what I should do with the catapillars? Should I bring them in and cut the milkweed plants they are eating? If so, how do I make a cage for them? I know that they will soon leave the plants to make a cocoon, but would they survive in the cacoon in freezing weather?
How long should butterflies live in “captivity”?
It’s too cold to release them but the five that have hatched are living only 1 – 2 weeks. I have fresh oranges and Gatorade for them to sip. Is this short life span normal? I have 12 chrysalis left and want to do my best for them.
I’m in MN. And I have a butterfly 🦋 that hatched and it’s been 2 days. It went dormant when I tried to let it go so now it’s in the house. At what temperature can I let it go? Today it’s 51 and not expected to be close to 60 – 70 degrees till next weekend
I’m near Conroe and have about 20 Gulf Fritillaries in chrysalis, some of which have been hanging around for more than a month.
They’re in a room where the temp stays about 60 degrees. Is it possible they WON’T emerge at all? Or not until the Spring?
Any words of wisdom about how to care for them?
My sister has also seen Monarchs lined up like celebrants at the bar during Happy Hour, crowded onto overripe bananas she had tossed onto her compost heap–quite a sight to see!
I have a question! It is January 11 2017 in Riverside California. Our Milkweed plants had 40 caterpillars and now I do not see them. Did they die or do they go somewhere? I do not see a Chrystalis anywhere. Your assistance is greatly appreciated…we are new to this!
My butterfly emerged yesterday. The weather is in the 60’s during the day and 40’s at night. Can it migrate to southern ca. Or will it winter here. In the bay area. Alameda.
We have 8 monarch chrysalises, and about 15 caterpillars In a cage in the garage feasting on milkweed. Really cold in South FL right now so thanks for the tip!!!
My sister has also seen Monarchs lined up like celebrants at the bar during Happy Hour, crowded onto overripe bananas she had tossed onto her compost heap–quite a sight to see!
Does anyone know if it’s too late to release a butterfly now (I am in MN)? The next 2 days are supposed to be 60’s and even might reach 70, but then it drops to 50 again. I want to do the best thing for this little guy! He’s been indoors for 2 days now. I give fruit and sugar water. Thank you very much!!!!!
Hey there, Sonya.
Let him go tomorrow. He will likely make his way south over the next few days, and could be 100 miles away by the 3rd day. It will likely be warmer the further south he gets.
We live in WI, and will be letting 2 go tomorrow, with 2 more waiting in chrysalis.
Life goes on. Thanks for raising monarchs.
Take good care
Hey there, Sonya.
Let him go tomorrow. He will make his way south over the next few days, where it will likely be warmer than MN.
We live in WI, and will be releasing 2 tomorrow, with 2 more waiting in chrysalis.
Thanks for raising monarchs.
Take good care
Thank you so much for your response! I really appreciate it! The only thing, I didn’t raise this one. I found him on the side of the road not moving. Thought he was dead. He climbed onto my finger, I tried to release that same day (past Saturday) and he just sat in the same spot till it got dark. Maybe it was too cold for him? Brought him inside to give a chance.. Has been flying around the house some, mostly sitting though. I gave different fruit; sugar/water; Gatorade.. I just don’t know if he will even fly. We hardly have any flowers left in my area (Twin Cities), so I am worried he won’t find anything to eat and just sit like last time. I hope for the best.. Kind of got attached to him over the past few days! Anyone ever had a pet butterfly lol?
Just wanted to send an update. Released my butterfly today at around 3 p.m. Here in MN it was an unusually warm day in 70s. However, 2 hours later, the weather changed completely with a downpour rain and very strong Northern winds. Temp dropping to 30s overnight. When we released him, he flew up in the tree right away and then went down. It was behind me, but my daughter said she saw him drop. We looked high and low all over, no sign of him. I spent 5 days with this little guy and kind of got attached to him. Wonder if he even has a chance given the weather is super nasty now. Maybe I should have kept him as a pet, at least it was safe. Does anyone know if they even have a chance at surviving in climates like this to make their way to Mexico in October (released in MN in my case)?
Hey there, Sonya.
Monarchs overwinter down in Mexico, in a place where the average temps are just above freezing. They can certainly survive at temps below freezing, but they burn some of their stored fat, which your little guy likely has plenty of.
He is probably hunkered down somewhere waiting for the temps to rise back into the 50s. We believe butterflies are a lot stronger than they appear.
Take good care, Sonya.
Thank you, Billy, for your kind words. I will hope for the best. Never knew I liked butterflies so much! I wonder how you can identify if a butterfly is going to be a good flyer or not, if it makes sense.. I guess when at home, ours kept going up and dropping down. So when we thought he went down outside, we desperately tried to find him to bring inside again. Maybe it was just the house, given he was bumping into things. We’ll hope for the best and try to take care of more butterflies!
And if the movie Flight of the Butterflies (2012) is ever shown in your area, you and your daughter should go see it. It’s a fantastic monarch migration story based on actual people/events.
It’s very kid friendly.
You could also watch it online.
Take good care,
II was sad to hear about your butterfly, but when you posted that you didn’t raise it, but found it, I thought, oh Mother Nature takes its course. Many butterflies do not survive the migration, sad to say. Some are just not strong enough and they drop out. But I give you hugs for caring and hope that you will plant milkweed for the next generations next season. 🙂
I hope someone can try asap. I have a butterfly I raised from egg and it came out of its chrysilis day before yesterday. Yesterday was heavy heavy rains but today is cold. It’s 51 now and only supposed to be 64 today. Tomorrow even colder. And the next 7 days it’s supposed to be in the 50s. So I have him in a large cardboard box with a mesh food tent on top with some sticks inside and I’ve feed it twice so far. Only 2 times yesterday. My question is do you think I should keep it longer than a week hoping for better weather or release it today? You kinda get attached to these little guys. I also have 1 that’s only 2nd instar and that one I am worried about too. What would someone suggest I do with him? I live in Tulsa Oklahoma. Thank you
First, check this out https://monarchbutterflygarden.net/releasing-butterflies-safely-monarch-migration/
You can even ask him a question, right on the website there’s a message option. Tony responded within a day I think to mine.
Also, read my story below.. Very similar to yours. I totally got attached to mine! He sat at my house for about 5 days. I released (I am in MN, so way colder here!) on a day when it was some weather anomaly – 70F! That was last Wednesday. 2 hours later, a downpour came, just like a wall of rain. I have been hoping he made it. I must admit, I have been quite sad about the entire experience – you try so hard and then release and then the weather turns! I totally got attached to him, even though people say it’s just an insect.
In your case, if the weather turns, I would release.. I am no expert, just a newly found butterfly lover. I think 50’s is not ideal, but you’re in OK, so way better chance than North..
Thank you for your reply. I checked that link out and has some great info. I still have him inside. I guess my thing is either I release him and hope he makes it to where he’s going saftley or I keep him where I know he’s safe and fed. In a way I feel bad because yes he deserves to be out flying freely but at the same time it seems with the freezing temps we are supposed to get in a few days he may not make it far enough in time to escape that cold. I don’t know maybe I’m overthinking it but that’s just how I am when it comes to any critter weather it be a dog or insect. I’ve been debating on just keeping this guy as a pet and let him live out his life where he will be able to eat and be warm. (Would probably live longer that way) and that’s what I keep telling myself. I also have a cat thats only in the 2nd instar so he’s got a while to go and won’t be til November when he’s a butterfly. I read your post and that is terrible that the weather turned so quickly. Hopefully he/she made it south.
I hope you saw my other response. Tried sending it right after the first one.
Yes, I totally get it how you want the best for them and it’s a dilemma to release or not. I was fighting it in my head for days. I decided to release based upon what was suggested to me by experts and also to give him a chance to do what he’s supposed to do in the wild. Nonetheless, I am like you, doesn’t matter how small a critter, I love them all and feel for them! After releasing I have been torturing myself thinking what happened. I hope he made it. People say they are sturdier than we think, so I tell myself that.
In your case, the weather actually doesn’t seem too bad. It’s almost freezing here in MN already! 60’s are just fine. Maybe if you let him go within the next couple of hours, he’d make it far enough before the rain comes tomorrow. I think they usually advise to release when you have a window of opportunity.. Just don’t wait too long as they need a good 4 hours before sunset to get adjusted to the new environment. Or you can keep him till the rain passes, if you provide enough food for your little butterfly. Mine did pretty well over 5 days eating bananas and sugary water. It seems like next Tuesday the weather will be very nice for you, similar to today. Again, you’re so much further South, so he still has a pretty good chance if you let him go.
I wish someone else weighed in on this too. It’s a hard decision. Good luck, and let us know what happened!
Yes I saw the other comment as well. I probably should have let him go today but I think I’m going to keep him til next week after this freeze. 2 days before he came out of his chrysilis I watched hundreds and hundreds of monarchs flying south over my house. I kept thinking to myself “hurry up buddy you need to be out here with all your friends” I don’t want him to be alone lol. Long journey to fly alone. He seems pretty happy I guess. I’ve been keeping him in a pretty good sized box I made up for him with some honey water in a small dish with one of those plastic sponges inside it. He really doesn’t eat without me feeding him but I’ve been feeding him twice a day. Around noon then again around 8 pm. He feeds for about 10 or 15 min both times. We have a sun porch in the back. It has a sliding glass door into the room and a screen door outside. All 3 sides are glass. Nothing but a tv out there and all the windows have drapes so I I think to.orrow I’m going to put him out there and at least let him fly around in that room for a while so he’s not just in that box all the time. He can hang out on the drapes. We have 5 cats so at night we put him in our closet where it’s dark and cool so the cats can’t get him (very curious) lol. He seems to settle down alot while in the closet. I put a soft dish towel on the bottom on the box just in case he falls it won’t be a hard landing. I got started really late as this was my first time doing anything like this and knew nothing until about a month ago. It all starred while sitting outside watching these 2 beautiful catapillars probably 5th instar get attacked and eaten by a huge red wasp. After that I searched and brought in any egg and cat I could find.
Hi there! How are things with your butterflies?
It looks like the weather has changed for you there in Tulsa.. Did you decide to release? I read an interesting article the other day that the migration is currently flying over Oklahoma, like you said you saw lots and lots of them over your house. Check it out
As for feeding, I tried feeding all the time, like 5 times a day. Sometimes it worked, sometimes not, but I offered anyway. Yes, watch out for those cats! My cat was in the garage at the time of the butterfly camping out here, but kept watching it very intensely each time!
Keep everyone posted!
Hello, yes I’ve decided to keep him. My wife named him cooper lol. I weighed the pros and cons of weather to release or keep him and decided to keep him. Yes We have had a couple nice days to release him but I’ve also thought about longer term. Will he make it to where he’s going? End up just hanging around my area and cold move in? Not find much to eat? Preditor? I just went over all those things and decided he would probably have a better chance of living out his life inside. Yea nature should probably take it’s course and I wouldn’t keep a bunch of them I just figured 1 would be ok. He stays in a box with mesh top that’s about 3 ft high by 3ft wide with some sticks and things in there. When I get off work I take the box out to our back room and let him kinda fly around in there for a bit then feed him. I was feeding 3 times a day but he wasn’t eating much so decided to just feed him once a day by hand. There is honey water in the box so he can eat if he wants but he hasn’t eaten any and just waits til I get him out. I keep him in a closet in our room at night because it’s quite bit cooler in there and dark so when I get him out to eat he doesn’t fly right off. If it wasn’t so late in the season I wouldn’t even think twice about releasing him. He’s warm and gets fed and has a bit of flying time in that room so that’s about as good as I can do for him right now.
I do think it’s not so late in the season as you believe, especially if they were recently flying over your house. Looks like high 60’s in your area for a while coming up. Just my opinion, would be interested to see what others think, but this one might not be a popular thread anymore. I wonder what other forums/groups would advise you. Good luck!
Hey there, Vaughn and Sonya.
I just checked your weather forecast, Vaughn, and it looks like it will be in the 60s up to 70 as highs for the next 10 days. I would release him at your first safe chance, so he can join his kind for the trip to Mexico. Monarchs migrate based on food supplies, temperatures, habitat availability and likely a host of other criteria we don’t fully understand yet. If you release him in spring in OK, some of the things he needs to survive/thrive/continue may not be available yet (think food supplies and mates, and if he were to mate, his offspring would not have a father/grandfather/great grandfather who made the trip to Mexico).
I vote for you to let him go so he has a chance to live out his life as a member of his culture.
Thank you all for caring so much for these little guys.
Take good care
Sonya, I also live in MN and have three in chrysalis now and due to emerge in a few days. I am very nervous about letting them go, but feel I am giving them a chance. Hard to not want to keep them! This is the latest I have found eggs. I hope the weather is good this weekend.
Today is sure a nice day for releasing! Yes, hopefully the weather will stay. I don’t know anyone who chose to keep them in captivity, but heard they live 2-6 weeks inside. I also felt I gave him a chance by letting him fly away, but that was about 2 weeks ago now. You should also check out this site, if you haven’t yet: he lives in MN as well and publishes good info – https://monarchbutterflygarden.net/
Hey, one more comment here. I quickly looked at your forecast, just on Google. It looks like this afternoon it will go into 60’s. That is fine for them to fly in. Then 4 days of rain for you in Tulsa.. I think I read they need about 4 hours before rain to kind of figure it out, especially if taking first flight. So if you wanted to, maybe you could release this early afternoon, and give him plenty of time before dark (I think again at least 4 hours before sunset) to get adjusted. The article I sent you had good info on that. And PLEASE check the radar so you know if some surprise storm comes! I kept checking all day and then boom, totally unexpected happened. If you’re comfortable taking care of him for 5 days till rain passes, you can wait, but you do have a window to release this early afternoon, it seems. Depends how comfortable you are to take care of him for almost a week. I fed mine all the time. He ate at least once a day but sometimes 3-4 times a day. Especially loved the sugar/water solution and bananas. Feel free to contact me if you’d like to chat further! Good luck and keep us posted on what happens!
I am nurturing 10 chrysalises in a screened box, hoping the weather stays in the 70s in the day and 60s at night. I live in Tampa, FL , so the chances are probably 50/50 that there won’t be a really cold spell until after they hatch and are released. Our Monarchs migrate to south FL, so they won’t have far to go. For Sonya and Billy, if you release your Monarchs before a cold front hits, they can ride the leading edge of the front, like surfers, to migrate southward. That’s how they get so far, so fast,..by riding air currents and fronts that move southward. Let’s think positive, that they all made it safely to their hibernation sites.
Hey there, Tom.
Thank you for the info about monarchs riding the leading edge of weather fronts. There’s so much we have yet to understand about these resilient little guys.
We wish you ten healthy and happy flyaways.
Take good care,
Sorry, I meant to say Sonya and Vaughn, instead of Billy. (Billy has some great advice.)
Update. Since the last post, we had 15 chrysalises and 3 caterpillars. One butterfly landed at our door when the temperatures dropped to the upper 40s. We placed him in the room with our chrysalis cage, and fed him fruit punch Gatorade soaked into a piece of bread. They all, except for one caterpillar, made it through the cold spell. Temperatures rose to the low 80s on Friday and so far 5 butterflies have emerged and flown away, with the one we found at our door. We are expected to have good weather for the next 7days, so hopefully the remaining chrysalises will produce butterflies, who can fly south before any future cold spell.
Please help! I live in the upper Midwest where the temps are currently below freezing! I had a black swallowtail emerge the other night and I don’t know what to do with her!
Nick, one good way to feed the butterfly is to soak a piece of bread with fruit punch Gatorade. Then carefully pick up the butterfly with all four wings folded together and place her on the wet bread. They taste with their feet and she will extend her proboscis into the bread, if she is hungry. Newly emerged butterflies may not eat for several hours or even by the next day, but try each day until she does. You will have to keep her in a warm area until until the weather warms up to at least the upper 60s, preferably the 70s. Good luck.
I live in Northern California, Marin County, For the second year, I have Monarch Chrysalis. This year I had 23 catapillars which I tented in the garden late October. We had a strong rain downpour, so I then took them all inside into my tent habitat. I made sure to put them on my balcony so they had exposure to humidity and weather and not get dry. I ran out of Milkweed, called nurseries and found beautiful Milkweed plants at a local nursery. Many of my cats became ill, throwing up, and I saw that the Milkweed came from, grown in, Mexico. It was treated with pesticides. I was told to “wash” the cats and replace with new Milkweed asap. I found some at a nursery an hour away. I did lose 6 cats, then another 5 died later, but the others were okay and formed chrysalis. On Christmas day, two emerged. I now have 7 healthy Monarchs, two chrysalis, and three that emerged with crinkled wings. Now, the temps are mid to high 50s, today was actually 60 and the sun was warm, but it was too windy. The nights are in the 30’s and 40’s. The forecast is mid to low day temps 50’s for the next week. I am afraid to release them! I don’t know what to do. They have a large butterfly cage, and can fly in it, but I do want to release them so they can join the “migration”, even though late… but I worry.
Lisa, having live in the SF Bay Area (Emeryville), I understand the weather you mentioned. As long as the Monarchs appear strong and temps are 60+ you can release them. Don’t worry about the winds, as they will help them migrate south to warmer climates. I now live in Tampa, FL and have released 28 monarchs this December. We are in the low 80s now, but get into the low 50s at night. Unless you get close to freezing, the butterflies, chrysalises, and cats should be ok. The cats slow down their transformation and butterflies become inactive when temperatures reach the 50s but unless you get close to freezing, they should all be ok. If you need to hold on to the butterflies for a while, feed them fruit punch Gatorade, soaked into a clean, new sponge, or piece of bread. See my other posts about how they taste with their feet. Place them on the soaked bread or sponge and if they are hungry, will begin to eat. This keeps them strong until temps are high enough to release them.
Thank you so much for the very quick response!!! Yes, I have sponges in the habitat soaked in canned fruit syrup, watermelon,berries,gatorade, juicey juice, etc.
mandarin oranges and some flowers from the backyard that I washed! I just worry! So, I’m thinking of releasing on Saturday, since winds will be calm-er, and temps high 50’s. The sun feels strong at noon. I do have that one with the crinkled wings. She can climb up the sides of her habitat. I put her in a separate one, She eats well and I can tell she wants to fly, but can’t. Sad…..I will just take care of her and feed her well. She likes attention. Such precious creatures!
I had one with a crinkled wing. Because it couldn’t fly, I kept it and fed it for about 4 days. On the fifth day I took it outside just to let it sit in the sun, and it amazingly flew away, with no problem…straight up about 100 feet and then off in the wind. It was out of sight in seconds.
Tom, NEW UPDATE
The two that had very crinkled and deformed wings died after three days. I fed them and took them out,
but nothing could be done to make them better, The third is not as bad, can climb up the cage, so I will try.
The seven I had in the really big habitat were climbing all over each other. Sometimes it looked like fighting, or rough play?One lost a tip of a wing.Just the tip part- another one actually slowed down and was not doing well. It just died. So, I took the enclosure out in the backyard sun and opened it up! at 1PM. Amazingly, the five super active, aggressive ones started eating, as though they knew they were about to embark on a journey. Those five were released and flew South- way up high! The sun was strong, warm, with a slight cool breeze, but I think the sun really helps today.
The one with the broken wing tip is still eating…. did not fly off. Very active, but I’m not sure if can fly well if I let her/him go. So, I will keep this one over night. Can she/he fly okay missing the tip of her wing? Can I somehow glue it back? The other one that just died has big beautiful wings….but I don’t know how to transfer wings.
I don’t think you can repair a broken wing. The scales on the wings prevent anything from sticking to them, so glue probably won’t work, and if it did, the weight of the dried glue could make it difficult to fly straight. Sounds like yours were fighting over mates. I understand that can get pretty rough.
Wow, thank you so much for this article and comments; I am finding this helpful. I am living in Southern California and saw a few monarch caterpillars outside on the milkweed. I felt sorry for them so I brought them in. We now have three caterpillars and four chrysalids – and one butterfly as of yesterday afternoon. Temperatures will be in the high fifties or low sixties today, and sunny, so I will try to release her late morning/early afternoon. My question is: can I put the other chrysalids in a cooler location in order to slow them down until the weather gets warmer outside? I don’t keep the house super warm — about 68-70 — but it is quite a shock from the outside temperatures, which get down to 40 degrees overnight. I am noticing that these fall/winter cats are definitely slower than the summer caterpillars, and I am thinking of putting the chrysalids where it is about 50-60 degrees. (I will still keep feeding the cats at the current temperature.) I don’t want to harm the chrysalids, so hoping someone can give advice. 🙂
Well, good news! I released two butterflies so far. We had good weather on January 2nd when the first butterfly flew. Because she stayed inside overnight I put her on a container plant of butterfly bush I had purchased from our local trusted nursery, having anticipated the need. (Before I read this article!) We had several days of good weather after she flew, so that made me happy. I trust she got where she needed to get to.
Another chrysalis was dark for a couple of days and I was worried he was going to emerge in the middle of a winter storm. But, no, he must have read the weather forecast (!) because he waited until first thing this morning. I just released him around noon, he was definitely ready! A sunny day today and there are supposed to be another few days of over sixty degree weather.
The first butterfly was in chrysalis form for 17 days, the second for twenty days. They are significantly slower than my summertime butterflies.
One last update. My butterflies have flown! Bad news – two of the caterpillars had the tachinid fly maggots. Such a bummer. But the others were happy and flying, so I’m happy!
I have two chrysalis right now in East Central Florida. The third caterpillar disappeared after I saw it leave the milkweeds. When I returned a few hours later I could not find it and there was a small snake resting on the barrel where the two chrysalis have attached to a bromeliad. I don’t think it has dipped below 55 but I was starting to wonder if they will take longer to emerge due to the cooler weather. It has been 8 or 9 days and they still look pretty green. I don’t have a way to bring them inside. I have also had whole generations wiped out by wasps in the summer. Where do I get a cage like the one in the article photo?
Yes, they will take longer to emerge in the cooler weather. In the summer, mine go from chrysalis to butterfly in about 10 days. In this cooler weather, they are taking a minimum of 16 days, even inside. (I tend to keep it under 70 degrees in the house.)
There are videos online that show you how to move the chrysalis. I have done that only once, so I am not an expert. I do hope the author replies to where she obtained the enclosure. I have seen a variety of types online. My husband made mine for me. The learning experience from that was to make sure the screen/mesh is fine, as the small flies got through the larger spaced mesh.
They are about to open up – 13 days. It is 62 degrees now and should climb to mid 70s but dipping down to 50 tonight.
I hope they will be ok.
That is fabulous they are almost ready to open! I do think they will be okay, even with the nighttime temperatures. Keep us posted!
They both flew away.
They both flew away on January 9th. It was quite windy so they disappeared fast. I have a video of the first flight.
That’s great they flew! Yes, sometimes they go fast. At least you had two together, they have each other for company. 🙂
Just google “pop up butterfly enclosures”, mine isn’t tall enough for a large plant. I place paper towels on the bottom, add milkweed leaves or branch tips with leaves. I’ve also had different sizes in a hermit crab container when there are too many wasps eating them outdoors.
We’ve had great success with our butterfiles in Central Florida, but recently our batches are either coming out with crinkled wings, or perfect but won’t fly. Not sure if the warm to cold to warm to cold weather had and effect, but we were wondering what to do with a perfect butterfly that just doesn’t seem to get the idea of flying.
I had the same problem….I released five healthy flyers one week after Christmas (when they emerged), however,
two had very crinkled, deformed wings. I kept both, feeding them and taking care of them in the large habitat
with plenty of milkweed small plants (which I think is like a “security blanket”) and fresh garden flowers, where ever
I could find them in my yard. I feed them fruit nector . Both died after about 2 weeks. I currently have one that lost
a piece of her wing. I did try to replace the piece (Monarch Hospital- online), but she does not fly well. Her wings were
perfect, just that one missing tip. She has been a “pet” now for about 6 weeks. I feed her daily, and put her habitat
outside in the day time, if not raining. She is happy. She will not be able to survive or fly well if I let her go.
As for the ones with the crinkled wings- when I had 21 caterpillars last November, I ran out of Milk Weed and went to
a local plant nursery. I purchased beautiful Milk Weed plants. I had no idea they had been sprayed with pesticides! They
were grown in “Mexico”. I washed my caterpillars, and lost only a few, however, I think the crinkled wings were a result
of the bad Milk Weed. I was able to find a wonderful nursery an hour away with a few non-pesticide Milk Weed plants.
Hey, everybody. For more info on those crinkled or folded or not-quite-right wings, have a look at this website:
Or google monarch o.e.
It’s a parasite. I will warn you that there are things about this that I find difficult, but for the good of the monarch population, we should all know about it.
Thanks for loving these little creatures.
Here’s to you.
It is normal for them to have small crinkled wings when they first emerge. Usually it takes 20 minutes or so for them to pump the fluid into their wings. I had one emerge too late in the day and the wings dried out because the metabolism slowed down before they could fully pump the fluid out. I learned from that experience and keep them warm and keep the lights on until they are done. So possibly the cold is affecting their ability to do that. Are they inside or outside?
Hello! We’ve been overwintering our Eastern Swallowtail chrysalis here in Dallas – mostly on the front porch, and occasionally moving him to the garage during inclement/particularly cold weather. Well, last night I neglected to move him, and some exceptionally strong wind must have blown over his habitat, and when I found him this morning he was submerged in water that had collected with the rain. Is there any chance he could survive? It wasn’t particularly cold, I’m just not sure if they need to “breathe” while they are still in chrysalis form. Thanks :).
Oh shucks. That is so sad! I don’t actually know the answer to your question, but I think I would assume it is still alive and continue to care for it. Hoping!
Some moths are known to survive up to five days underwater in the pupae stage. So I hope your butterfly survives! Mother Nature can be pretty harsh and things do survive.
Thank you for caring about the butterflies! 💕
I have had the exact thing happen to my Easter Swallowtail chrysalis. Wind blew over my habitat and it was indeed submerged overnight. I set the chrysalis on a paper towel for about 10 minutes and then I moved them into the garage and it among about 6 more overwintered in my garage and alas he survived yellow and beautiful and to my surprise flew away with zeal and excitement when the weather was about 70° in my area (I’m in NORCAL) and such is life with a little help! Don’t give up on the life, you never know. There’s no harm in waiting.
That is fabulous, Cj! Makes my heart sing! ♥️
The weather has been unseasonably cold and very rainy here in New England. 3 days ago a painted lady emerged and within several hours I brought her outside to release her and she just clung to my finger. I placed her on a nearby bush and 24 hours later she was still on the same bush, finally that evening I brought her back into the house put her in a makeshift enclosure with some sugar water, ripe fruit and a few flowers. Nothing appears to be wrong with her wings, she doesn’t seem to be eating so I tried to help her but nothing. She flutters her wings but appears to be unable to fly. What should I do
Impossible to say. Leave her outside and let nature take its course? That’s what would have happened anyway. Cruel, I know. Good luck.
One of my butterflies emerged during a rainy spell last spring and didn’t want to leave. So I put her on a container plant on my front porch, and she stayed there for three days. She didn’t move the whole time, and didn’t eat, either. I just left her be. Then the sun finally came out, but she was too weak to fly. So I found a nice nectar flower and brought it to her, and she fed on that. Then she flew!
Sounds to me like your butterfly is in the same boat. I would put her outside so her metabolism slows down. I notice in nature that on rainy and cool days, I don’t see butterflies. They stay in a protected place until it is warm enough for them. They don’t need to eat until it is warm enough to forage.
Hello, Sonya here again. I was wondering how long butterflies lived in captivity for those who decided to keep them. I found one on the road, he’s not flying too much. I don’t know if he’ll stand a chance. I took him home and the weather is fine tomorrow in the Twin Cities, but I am not sure he’ll make it anyway. I actually brought him here from way up North, we were in Northern MN for the weekend.. 50 was high there, so he maybe didn’t fly because of that? Thanks…
I have kept butterflies for several days in captivity until the weather gets better. I do suggest keeping butterflies in an outside enclosure, so they acclimate to the outdoor, versus indoor, temperature. They will also get the correct amount of sunlight versus artificial indoor lighting.
Sounds like you will be able to release him in a day or two. Be sure to find him a nectar source, he may have been weak from lack of nourishment.
Sad to say, some butterflies simply don’t make the migration. If we give them our best effort, at least we know we have given them the best possible chance.
Thank you. What concerns me about him is that he’s not doing anything. Just sitting. Very inactive. The butterfly I had last year was flying around all over until I released him. What can I do? I have offered banana and Gatorade and he seems to eat quite a bit, but still not flying or even moving. I found him sitting on a walking path, but no cars there.
I’m glad to hear that he is eating! That’s a good sign!
You are on the right track and now it is up to him. I think I would feed him and then put him on a plant in the direct sun, where he has an unobstructed “launch”. If he is going to fly, it will be after he is warmed up.
Thank you, Kris! I did let him go.. It took a while, he sat around and it was a little windy. I finally put him on a flower and of course, as luck would have it, some lady got lost in my neighborhood (normally very quiet here). While it took me times and times again to explain to her where to go, he was gone. I don’t know if he flew. I never saw him fly much. I looked under the hosta where he was and around, no sign of him. I hope he went where he’s supposed to go! It’s 85F here right now, I released 3 hours ago, so it’s perfect skies right now. We might have rain overnight, I hope he makes it! I saw a frog under the hosta and thought, oh my, I hope that’s not where he went!
That is a funny story, thank you for keeping me posted! I’m guessing that the small bit of commotion with the lost lady was the impetus for him to fly off. I think you did the right thing, and he is now on his way!
I found a butterfly out last night in a rain/snow storm. Brought it inside in a makeshift enclosure, temps are supposed to be cold for the next few days. The butterfly seems like it’s kinda freaking out about being stuck inside. Should I just let it go or find a way to keep it cool and more still? I’m a college student so don’t have a ton of resources.
Did you try and release? Or did you get some food and hope for a warm day?
Honestly, I would let it go free. When it’s cold they don’t use much energy because they aren’t flying around. When it warms up they will fly around and eat. I have noticed that when we have a few cold days, I don’t see any butterflies. When it warms up, they come out of the shrubbery and start flying around as usual.
It is telling you what it needs: to be free. 💕
I found a Comma Butterfly on the ground. Both wings turn into shreds. He is currently living in my house. Am I prolonging his agony or saving him. It’s been about two weeks.
I had monarchs inside in a large butterfly cage. I sliced and orange, and on another occasion a tangerine, and placed the fruit on a plate in the cage. I have pictures and videos of the monarch taking the juice as nectar. I released both went it was over 50 degrees and both took flight.
Hi! I’m in NJ and we had a black swallowtail chrysalis in our kitchen window (the caterpillar came in with the herbs before it got too cold outside and he was the surprise on the parsley!). He just hatched today – and it’s freezing outside. Should we just keep him in an enclosure in the house? I’m not sure how long he will live for… I’m going to Florida for a business trip in a few days, should I take him with me and release him in Florida?
Well, here I am again. I told myself that I was not going to bring the monarch caterpillars inside this late season. But of course as the weather got colder overnight I started feeling sorry for them. They are weather-sensitive and were growing very slowly. I did hold out for a few days – or was it a week – checking on them every single day. Then I brought them into an outdoor enclosure on container plants, so it would be easier to keep an eye on them rather than traipsing through the mud to the planted milkweed. The first j-hanger didn’t form a chrysalis and so I thought it was too cold. So I brought them all inside. Well, it turned out that the one had tachinid fly maggots. And two more did as well. I guess it wasn’t too cold for the flies. Ugh.
I have three enclosures, and I now have one chrysalid – formed Dec. 30 – back outside. One chrysalis is still inside with two j-hangers. That enclosure will go back outside after they have formed their chrysalids. And the last enclosure has the third and fourth instars. There are also still some cats outside on the milkweed; I was amazed that I kept discovering more and more. I must admit I have not been checking on those ones every day! This could turn into the full-time job I was trying to avoid.
I will keep everyone posted. I am here in Southern California and we are having mid-60 degree weather during the day and mid-40 degree weather at night. I am hoping that by putting the chrysalids back outside that they will develop more slowly and will overwinter in that form until later this month or, preferably, early February when it starts getting warmer. We’ll see…
I bring mine in from time to time too. We live in Central Florida, and have a bunch of “ready to Js” as well as what we call “tinies” (about your pink fingernail tip in size), with a lot of eggs outside as well. I will put them all outside today (there were over 30 total), as the weather is warming nicely, and hopefully they will be just fine. Our main challenge (other than the fluctuating weather right now) are the giant yellow wasps (who will eat mature cats in a heartbeat) and the new assassin bug hatchlings. We are out there daily doing a sweep of our milkweed. We do find that keeping them outside as much as possible as opposed to even our screened in patio makes for much healthier Monarchs and a higher success rate.
Sad to say, our success rate is much better in the enclosures. In the summer, the tachinid flies wipe out 100% of the unprotected caterpillars. They are so bad that they even attack the enclosure when the cats are j-hanging or getting ready to. They are attracted by the pheromones and are highly aggressive. Heart-breaking.
An update: I now have 10 chrysalids. They all formed their chrysalis in the inside enclosure and are now outside. They do develop much more slowly than in the summertime. Even the Dec 30 chrysalis has not enclosed yet. Temperatures (F) are in the 60s, some 70s during the day, and mid to high 40s overnight.
I had some caterpillars in the outside enclosure, and in fact still have two. They do not do as well. Mostly I end up bringing them back inside after they languish pitifully for a while! The two that are out there are 5th instars now and have molted twice since I put them in. Keeping my fingers crossed!
They are the last. I have not seen any smaller caterpillars or eggs for a few weeks. I have seen one lone butterfly on warmer days.
It will be very interesting to see when the butterflies emerge. I will keep everyone posted. 🙂
*Oops. My spellcheck turned eclosed into enclosed! The December chrysalis has not eclosed yet. 🙂
Of the 10 chrysalids, 8 eclosed properly and flew. Two were weird. One dropped as a chrysalis and the other almost dropped – I had to rescue as it was literally hanging by one tiny thread. But then the butterfly dropped when it emerged and didn’t form the wings properly even after I picked it up. One side fully extended but the other side was crumpled.
But, 80% success. So I am glad of that. And they were happy! They took pretty much five weeks. The last took 4 weeks, five days – even with higher daytime temperatures. Nights still cooler. But not freezing.
Oh – There was one more caterpillar on the milkweed around the same time as these guys. I found milkweed amongst other shrubbery which I put him on. I am pretty sure he emerged, as I saw a brand new butterfly that I had not released. If so, he survived 37 degree weather! So next year I will be brave and let them over-winter outside. 🙂
I would have done the same. Curious to see how many of them are healthy and fly. We had over 30 last year late in the season on the lanai, but more than half didn’t come out healthy. Some looked great, but couldn’t figure out how to fly, others coulsn’t shed their chrysalis before it hardened on their body. Very sad and frustrating.
I had a perfect male hatch the other evening and brought him in due to the temperature drop. Took him a few days after we put him back out to actually fly away, but he did. There is definitely a delay in all of their processes when the temperature drops and there is no sun.
Yes, I have had that happen. A whole group of mine couldn’t emerge properly from their chrysalids. And yes, it was like it stuck to them. They were all eating from the same milkweed, and I suspect it had traces of pesticides. Not enough to kill them, but enough so they couldn’t quite form properly.
As I reported above, 8 of my 10 were okay, even late season.
My December 30th chrysalis eclosed this morning. Amazing – a full five weeks. In the mid-40s(F) overnight many nights. She looks beautiful! I will have to wait until she dries, for the full report.
I did bring the two enclosures inside last night, as the forecast was for 39 degrees overnight. And is forecast for 35 degrees tonight. Maybe one year I will leave future chrysalids outside in the almost freezing temperatures, but for this year they are inside for the worst of it.
Also, my last two caterpillars: one formed his chrysalis outside a couple of days ago – we were having beautiful weather. And the other is finally j-hanging. He is so fat! Just wanted to eat and eat and eat, lol.
I am happy to report that she flew! 💕
She went north, so I thought that was interesting.
I put the rest back outside. The days are not forecast to be very warm, so we shall see how long they all take. But at least the nights are not supposed to be freezing.
Hello, I have a few (5-8 i think) chrisalises that I took in my house because I saw them on my plants in October 2019, now it is May and and one came out last night. It was nice until yesterday, when there was a thunderstorm and the temp dropped a lot. Now we are keeping them in a small habitat, and I let one out to fly around the house. It is staying on an orchid in front of the window and its not flying anywhere. It used to try and fly against the window but we always picked it up, because it fell. We did some research and it is a black swallowtail. We have some sugar water on a small dish and an overripe orange, but it doesnt want to eat.
What do I do?
It’s mid october here in NY. I Have an injured Monarch, crawling, still living but not flying away.
What to do with him??
Shucks, that is always so hard. You can leave him outside and let Nature take its course. Or, bring him in and see if he eats nectar.
Yesterday, I drove from the Austin area to San Antonio and released 5 Monarchs that emerged in the last 2 weeks and would not leave along with 24 Queen butteries. Temps went into the 20s late Saturday and early Sunday, so I rounded them up and any chrysalis I could find and brought them indoors. One healthy, beautiful male monarch emerged on Sunday (odd, but out of 10 that I witnessed, 8 were male). Temps went into the 60s on Tuesday, so I drove them farther south to give them a better chance to get farther south. They were fed for three days and ready for freedom. While some promote letting “nature take its course”, I disagree. I’m the rookie who had a big crop of tropical milkweed this year and encouraged abnormal behavior as the tropical milkweed bloomed and thrived up until January 2 when the freeze got it. This year, I will trim the tropical mw all back in October and plant 3 more milkweed varieties native to Texas. I’m expanding the pollinator garden from 600 sq ft to 1000 sq ft. and seed the pasture around the 1/4 acre pond in back of our property with more native milkweed. I will continue to add each year until I reach 1600 sq ft. on my land and 1500 sq. around the pond. Who in their right mind wants to mow and edge a lawn? Not it!
I love it when people disagree with me! I do sometimes say “let nature take its course”. As much as I love butterflies, there is also a bigger picture. They are sometimes food for birds. And even if not, they decompose and go back into the earth. I also look at the carbon footprint of driving from New York to San Antonio, for example, to save one butterfly as compared to driving from Austin to San Antonio to save 20. Also, whether a butterfly is injured or a young butterfly factors into the equation.
As for the tropical milkweed: like many species of both plants and animals, their usual habitat is changing with global warming. What was abnormal is now the new normal.
I love it that you are expanding your pollinator garden! A few years back, we took out most of our lawn and replaced with native-type and/or compatible plantings. The pollinators love it – and we love to watch the pollinators! Thank you for your love of butterflies! 💕
Just received my butterfly habitat sign along with the packet of pollinator seeds. There were no instructions as to when to plant the seeds. Now or should I wait til early spring? I have a small, but lovely butterfly garden with host and nectar plants but would like to expand.
Depends on where you live. Usually, fall winter. Ask the Google what’s appropriate for your grow zone. Good luck!
I just fund two Monarch larvae on a very freeze burned Milk weed plant. After the freezing windy night they seem to be alive. How can I help them?
Super helpful!! Thank you so much for your post. I have 6 monarch’s ready to become beautiful butterflies 😍 🦋 One did hatch this morning!! I live in Florida with temperatures reaching the low 40s today. I brought them all in to keep warm. So excited for them lol