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.

Related posts:

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29 Responses

  1. Sharon
    | Reply

    I have a question. I have just a very tiny piece of a black tip left from a chrysalis that fell. Can I put a pin through that to hang from the plant? I see that I may also be able to glue it but I am not sure which glues are exactly non toxic that I can use. Please help! This guy fell a few days ago and I am not sure how long I have before he tries to come out. Thanks so much!!

  2. Teresa
    | Reply

    I’m so glad I found this site. I’ve been trying since early spring for the first time ever to bring Monarchs to my area. I had never seen one in real life, and once I learned why, I immediately searched for plants, put them in the ground, watched them soar to five feet tall, then in July, I went out early on a Saturday morning to see a female Monarch flying between the flower clusters, pausing, then moving on. I found the white dots and was overjoyed! I squished aphids and milkweed bugs with my bare hands and watched over the baby cats as if they were human infants. I lost many due to unknown causes, as I wanted to let this happen as nature intended. At one point in August, I had well over 50 huge fat cats chomping away on milkweed. Then one day, there were NONE on the plants, and I knew they were off to find a place to morph. When I had found five chrysalides, another cat attached to my fence. Yay! I took its picture and drove off to get groceries. When I came back, I was sure I would find him in partially green splendor. What I found instead was a partially black, partially EATEN cat. I had only been gone for an hour. He was dead. As I stared in horror, a yellow jacket landed on him and started chewing. I was heartbroken and furious. But it was a lesson. Now that I know I can bring the chrysalides inside, I’m going home today and gather them all up and do just that. I have a laundry room that is largely unused where I can close the air conditioning vent and the door. My issue is that they are all currently attached to my chain link fence, so there is no “web” to get. Only a tiny section of white cord leading to the black section. How do I move that? I have watched a video of a wasp attacking a newly-emerged Monarch and I can’t stand the thought of it. Any ideas? I’m doing this today, so I may be able to figure something out on my own, but for future reference, I’d appreciate your ideas. Thank you.

  3. Pauline Lane
    | Reply

    I raised and released 34 Black Swallowtail butterflies this summer. A few of them had to be moved and I found out that the best way is to get Contact Cement (found at automotive parts stores) to attach them to a piece of wood. This cement is easy to work with and can even be made into a hanging string if you are patient and careful. Almost all the butterflies that I hung like this emerged fine.

    Now my question is this:
    I have a few Monarchs this year for the first time (yay!) and one of them has gone curled up on the floor. Do you think this method will work okay with this Monarch after it becomes a chrysalis? I like that idea of using a bit of cotton ball material. Never worked with a Monarch chrysalis before. My cats seem to want to go to chrysalis too soon so I suspect I will have very small Monarchs.

  4. Anne amberg
    | Reply

    A monarch hatched from the crysalis and did fine, it’s warlike a little bit. But won’t fly. It’s been 6 hours and still no flight. Is there something wrong? The wings look perfect?

  5. Cay Kendrick
    | Reply

    We live on an island off mid-coast Maine. A Monarch caterpillar attached itself to the underside of our windowsill a day or two ago. Yesterday morning it still looked like a caterpillar. Last night we had a torrential rainstorm which must have knocked it off the windowsill. This morning I see the newly-formed chrysalis lying on the deck in a puddle of water. Will it still be viable? Is it still possible to rescue it?

  6. Eileen Pfeffer-Robertson
    | Reply

    My monarch has been out of his chrysalis since 9 or earlier but was hanging in the caterpillar cage but had a yucca plant in it. Our butterfly’s wings are crinkled and was soaked so he hung them on our screen inside the lanai! She is still trying to flutter her wings and they do look like she had all of them but can’t seem to spread them all yet! She still may be wet and I put her back in the cage and she is still hanging. I tried to give her a slice of orange and Also put her on a flower but it may have looked like she could’ve drank the nectar and I’m not sure. I was holding her and thought best to let her hang once again. Is there a possibility that her wings will straighten since they still may be wet! I’m waiting for the sun and will try to let her enjoy it and I’m worried about my other 3 chrysalis that’s in the one cage! Will the sun hurt the chrysalis if they are in the sun a little bit? I’m trying to save one life and don’t want to destroy 3! I am just so upset because I’ve lost 1 so far and saved 3 and 18 more to go! I’m not sure what to do with the others once they come out? Do I just let them fly on to the cage screen or my lanai screen? And what can I do for my one in the butterfly cage ? Is there any chance to help her spread her wings since they all seem to b there??? Help Me Please! This is my first butterfly attempt and I’m not too good with losing any of them! I just don’t understand how I can lose any when they r inside! I thought I was being so careful ! They r so beautiful and the caterpillars work so hard that it makes me cry😢

    • Monika Maeckle
      | Reply

      Nature can be cruel. Impossible to say what the problem is. You can’t really help them spread their wings. After they eclose, when they are ready to fly, just take them outside and they’ll fly off. If they’re malformed and seem doomed, I suggest putting them in the freezer and disposing of them properly. You may have OE or another disease and don’t want to spread it to healthy stock. Good luck.

  7. Lo rowland
    | Reply

    I have about 20 monarch chrysalis’ formed on the ceiling of the cage I keep them in. I wanted to bring them on a 2 hour car ride down state to see if they will emerge while I’m with my nieces over the weekend. Is transporting them okay to do?

    • Monika Maeckle
      | Reply

      Yes. Just put cage in car. Good luck!

  8. Daliah Fowler
    | Reply

    Odd question, but can the chrysalis move on it’s own? I put one in a jar with a cheese cloth top. It was on a stick and the next day it was on the cheese cloth and then this morning is had moved to another location on the cheese cloth.

  9. Maggie M
    | Reply

    Hello- one of my caterpillars has attached itself to the middle of the zipper on its mesh cage-barring me from opening it and feeding the other caterpillars/ cleaning up. Is it ok to move the cage at all or VERY carefully open the zipper? Can I move the caterpillar while still in his J shape?

    Thanks!

    • Monika Maeckle
      | Reply

      You can move the chrysalis if you must. Follow the same instructions in the post to detach the silk, and then just cut the thin strand saddles. You can use glue to adhere him to a stick or more advantageous surface. Wouldn’t mess with the cat in the j-shape. I’ve even used tape on the bottom. Good luck.

  10. Judith Vogelsang
    | Reply

    Thank you for your very helpful advice about moving a chrysalis. I did it with dental floss and it worked great!

  11. Caro
    | Reply

    My monarchs are at risk of placing their chrysalises near plumbed-in sprinklers. Should I try move them? What happens when it rains? Can they get wet and survive?

  12. […] How to move a Monarch chrysalis: […]

  13. Annette Reinheimer
    | Reply

    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?

    • Barbara Letsom
      | Reply

      they do shed a few drops of excess fluid that can be red sometimes. don’t worry –

  14. Lori White
    | Reply

    If someone blows on a chrysalis as the butterfly is emerging, does it damage the butterfly’s wings?

    • Barbara Letsom
      | Reply

      No, but don’t blow hard – if it just simulates a gentle breeze, ok.

  15. April
    | Reply

    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.

  16. Carl Carnahan
    | Reply

    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????

  17. CAS Smith
    | Reply

    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?

    • Barbara Letsom
      | Reply

      if it’s black inside, it’s dead. 4 out of 5 hatched, pretty good.

  18. Kit Goodwin @justcennet
    | Reply

    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?

    • Monika Maeckle
      | Reply

      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!

      • @justcennet
        | Reply

        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…

  19. William Grant, Ph.D.
    | Reply

    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.

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