MONARCH REARING MAIN POINTS
Your milkweeds need to be in planter boxes. This is critical. When a caterpillar needs a rest, it will line up vertically on the outside edge of the planter box. This will give you the opportunity to scoop up the caterpillar and place it on milkweed cuttings in the refuge cage. Without a planter box, you will lose most of your caterpillars.
You need to protect young caterpillars in a refuge cage. Believe me when I say, there is only one design that works: a mesh cage that can be unfolded and deployed in a matter of seconds.
DON’T rig up a do-it-yourself version of a cage: you will waste a lot of time, lose a lot of caterpillars, and expend much more effort than you needed to.The configuration that works is: milkweed cuttings, placed in water-filled plastic bottles, raised in fine-mesh-flexible-frame cages. Please just accept this advice, since it is the product of many hours of trial-and-error.
Do a search on these terms: mesh cage butterfly.
Some brand names are Restcloud, Qingo, Miraclekoo, Ueetek, Trasfit, Oxel, Petforu.
A cage of 36 inches is ideal.
When you see an newly-emerged adult fluttering around: open the cage door and let the butterfly go.
TACHNIDS DON’T FLY AT NIGHT
Only open the refuge cage at night, which is when tachnid flies are not active. If you open the refuge cage during the day, and a single tachnid fly gets into your refuge cage, it will kill all the caterpillars.
ANCHOR YOUR REFUGE CAGES
Use flat rocks or flat concrete stepping stones to weigh down your refuge cages. If you don’t, a gust of wind could blow the cage over, and the hanging chrysalises will be disrupted and die. However, don’t clutter your refuge cage.
TRIM BACK YOUR GROWING MILKWEEDS – A LITTLE EACH DAY
Frequently trim back your milkweeds, place the cuttings in a water-filled plastic bottle, and place the bottle in your refuge cage. Harvest milkweed branches that are growing a seed pod, and branches that are stretched out and leggy.
THE ONLY WAY TO BE RID OF MILKWEED BUGS AND APHIDS
Milkweed bugs and yellow aphids will infest your milkweeds unless you keep the milkweeds trimmed back. Trim a little each day. Benefit from my experience, and accept this fact: there is only one way to keep the milkweed bugs and yellow aphids off your milkweeds: keep the milkweeds trimmed back. For some reason, milkweed bugs and aphids can’t live on new growth.
DONT GIVE TACHNID LARVA ANYPLACE TO HIDE
Tachnid larva growing inside a caterpiller will wait until the caterpillar turns into a ‘hanging J’. Then, the larva will burst out, slide down a thin thread, fall to the bottom of the refuge cage, then try to slide under a pot or dig into dirt. If the larva finds a place to hide in your refuge cage, it will emerge in a few days as a tachnid fly, and the fly will proceed to kill all your caterpillars. Keep the refuge cage uncluttered. It should contain just one or two stepping stones to anchor it, and the bottles which hold the milkweed cuttings.
DON’T BUY MILKWEED PLANTS THAT HAVE BEEN TREATED WITH INSECTICIDE
At the nursery, look for milkweeds that have caterpillars crawling around on them, and look for Monarch adults flying around. If you don’t see any caterpillars or adult butterflies, then assume that the milkweeds have been treated with insecticide. Don’t buy these contaminated milkweeds, no matter how good they look at the nursery.
EVERY STRING DANGLING FROM A DEAD CHRYSALIS MEANS THERE IS A TACHNID LARVA LOOSE IN YOUR REFUGE CAGE
If you see strings dangling from a chrysalis, take the chrysalis out of the refuge cage immediately and dispose of it somewhere away from your yard. Then, you need to find one larva for each and every string that you saw hanging from the dead chrysalis. You really shouldn’t have any difficulty distinguishing a tachnid larva from an early-stage caterpillar: the caterpillars have 2 cute little black antennas. The tachnid larve are slug-like and move like inchworms.
USE MIRACLE GRO PLASTIC BOTTLES TO HOLD MILKWEED BRANCHES IN THE REFUGE CAGE
After you have trimmed milkweed branches and brought the cuttings to the refuge cage, you will need some sort of water bottle in which to place the cuttings. Miracle Gro liquid fertilizer plastic bottles are ideal. Rinse out the plastic bottle, then drill two or three holes, 3/8 inch across, into the top of the screw-on bottle top. Pellegrino mineral water plastic bottles are also suitable, but are not as broad-based as the Miracle Gro plastic bottles.
DON’T LET THE MILKWEED CUTTINGS DRY OUT
As regards the water-filled plastic bottles holding your milkweed cuttings: top off the water level every couple of days. Milkweed cuttings will live for as long as two weeks as long as they are in water, but they will die in one days if cut off from water.