This species-specific program runs from July-October each year.
YOU can enjoy the process of complete metamorphosis from your home!
During the summer, Burpee collects local Monarch eggs and young larva that are in the mowing paths along roads and farm fence-lines. We give them a second chance at life through this program. You can save a baby monarch from mowing, and raise it in your home for free (with paid admission). Pre-registration is required for Monarch larva pickup. Learn more below.
2021 Dates: August 27-August 28
Additional Dates: September 4-5 and September 11-12
Burpee will help you learn the steps to be a great Monarch Adoptive parent.
Q: Where does Burpee get the larva?
A: Most of the larva comes from walking down fence lines and walking paths where industrial mowing happens every week. Young milkweed grows back with the grass, and the mother butterfly will lay her eggs on the tender, young plants. The egg hatches in about 4 days. These are typically mowed again, and again in the summer, preventing these hatchlings from growing up.
Q: Can the larva get viruses?
A: Sure! In fact there is a common virus that infects monarchs causing small crystals in the cells and eventually the cells to burst killing the larva. It is very contagious and very deadly to the monarchs. Typically viruses that effect humans do not effect insects, and vice versa. In order not to transfer viruses to other insects, make sure you do not have more than one larva living together, and make sure to wash your hands every time you handle an insect.
Q: Is breeding the Monarchs in my home going to help the species?
A: Probably not. Researchers have found that captive breeding programs are not very effective for the population (so far). There is additional researchers who have concerns about the migratory generation being hampered by indoor rearing. Indicators like temperature changes, light changes, etc. are important for the developing larva.
Q: What is the difference between captive rearing and captive breeding? Are they bad?
A: Captive rearing means you have a wild caught larva and your rear (raise) it in captivity to re-release as an adult. Captive breeding means you have two captive adults who reproduce and lay eggs in captivity. Their offspring then grows up to live in a butterfly garden, or be released into the wild.
Captive rearing is OK as long as you don’t collect eggs and larva from a healthy milkweed patch. If the patch is growing and the larva are thriving, let nature run its course! If the larva is in a place where it will not survive (in the path of a mower, on a trail where pesticide is sprayed) then it is fine to collect the larva.
Captive breeding has advantages. It is better to populate a butterfly garden with captive bread butterflies than wild caught ones. However, massive breeding programs can contribute to the spread of virus, and other diseases among butterflies living in close quarters. If these individuals are part of a large butterfly release, they can then spread disease to the wild population. Fortunately one of the most common sicknesses in Monarchs, Black death in monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus), prevents the monarch from reaching adulthood.
The Pseudomonas bacteria like moist environments. Keep your breeding environment as dry as possible, with good ventilation.
Q: What about pesticides? Can they effect monarchs?
A: There is no way to spray pesticide and only effect one species. Therefore, if you know your neighborhood sprays for insects, be sure to wash your milkweed well before feeding your larva!
Q: How do I keep my Monarch alive with an environment clean and safe?
A: Try these tips:
- Keep the cage out of the sun.
- Vacuum/dump out up any frass (butterfly droppings) and old milkweed leaves. Wipe down and dry the cage daily.
- Rinse milkweed cuttings and leaves with water before feeding.
- Watch for condensation in breeding cages. Be sure to let milkweed plants dry completely before use.
- If you see any signs of sickness in a caterpillar (lethargy, discoloration, etc.), isolate it from the other caterpillars. (caterpillars should never be housed in the same container. Isolate any sick larva from the room)
- Remove any chrysalides that are turning black immediately. Do not touch anything else without washing your hands.
- If you have evidence that your butterflies are suffering from an insect virus or bacteria, disinfect the cage with a 5 to 10 percent bleach solution prior to raising any more.
Join the movement.
Burpee Museum is encouraging everyone to have a patch of native plants in their yard. This season we are focusing on milkweed by providing seeds and information to the community. Join us!
Why Plant Milkweed?
Did you know milkweed is the only food source for the Monarch Butterfly’s larva? Planting milkweed is an excellent way to provide a food source for the larva, a nectar and food source for the adult butterflies of many species, and a beautiful native flower in your garden.
You can grow your milkweed plant from seeds, cuttings and from root divisions. Seeds can be planted in prepared beds outdoors, in flower gardens, around your mailbox, or even started indoors in flats.
Of course, germination rates will be higher indoors and it will be easier to establish transplanted seedings, but planting from seeds outside works as well.
When to Plant.
Your Milkweed seeds can be sown outdoors anytime after the danger of frost has passed. When you plant in the fall, you may not see any germination this season. In fact, it typically takes one full year for your seeds to become plants. (see cold treatment below).
Don’t worry if you don’t see any growth this fall, the seeds do better after a winter outside. In fact, Asclepias incarnata (swamp milkweed) and Asclepias syriaca (common milkweed) germinate poorly at high temperatures (>85˚F).
Where to Plant.
If you have a choice, light soils are better than those with heavy clay. Well-drained soils are generally best but there are some species, e.g. Asclepias incarnata (swamp milkweed), which do well in saturated conditions. Burpee is providing Asclepias syrica (common milkweed) which does better in a dry soil.
Most common milkweed evolved in open areas where they were exposed to full sunlight and they will do best if they are planted in the sunniest areas of your gardens.
Cold Treatment vs. Heat Shocking.
If you have the time, cold treatment is the way to go. This is the way nature takes care of her milkweed seeds. They fall from the plant in the autumn, sit through the frozen winter, and then germinate in the spring. Plant your seeds outdoors and allow one year for germination.
If you want to do this indoors, you can simulate nature and place the seeds in a refrigerator (33–38°F) for 60–90 days before sowing to see germination.
Heat Shocking Option: If you are short on time, heat shocking the seeds is another (though typically less reliable) method to increase germination rates of milkweed seeds. To heat shock the seeds, soak them in hot (120-130F) tap water for 12 hours, then drain and repeat three (3) times. Place the seeds in a plastic bag wrapped in a warm, damp paper towel for 24 hours.
Plant Native Flowers!
Monarchs need milkweed for their young larva, but they need nectar to survive. Planting a selection of flowering plants, grasses, trees and shrubs provide wildlife benefits throughout the seasons!!
When possible, plant species grown straight from local seed sources. These native originals are the best choice, as they co-evolved with specific wildlife, which supports migration, breeding and other seasonal interdependency.
- Use a wide variety of plants that bloom from early spring into late fall.
Help pollinators by planting in clumps, rather than single plants. Include plants native to your region. Natives are adapted to your local climate, soil and native pollinators. Do not forget that night-blooming flowers will support moths and bats.
- Avoid modern hybrid flowers, especially those with “doubled” flowers.
Often plant breeders have unwittingly left the pollen, nectar, and fragrance out of these blossoms while creating the “perfect” blooms for us.
- Eliminate pesticides whenever possible.
If you must use a pesticide, use the least-toxic material possible. Read labels carefully before purchasing, as many pesticides are especially dangerous for bees. Use the product properly. Spray at night when bees and other pollinators are not active.
- Include larval host plants in your landscape.
If you want colorful butterflies, grow plants for their caterpillars. They WILL eat them, so place them where unsightly leaf damage can be tolerated. Accept that some host plants are less than ornamental if not outright weeds. A butterfly guide will help you determine the plants you need to include. Plant a butterfly garden!
- Create a damp salt lick for butterflies and bees.
Use a dripping hose, drip irrigation line, or place your bird bath on bare soil to create a damp area. Mix a small bit of table salt (sea salt is better!) or wood ashes into the mud.
- Spare that limb!
By leaving dead trees, or at least an occasional dead limb, you provide essential nesting sites for native bees. Make sure these are not a safety hazard for people walking below. You can also build a bee condo by drilling holes of varying diameter about 3 to 5 inches deep in a piece of scrap lumber mounted to a post or under eaves.
- You can add to nectar resources by providing a hummingbird feeder.
To make artificial nectar, use four parts water to one part table sugar. Never use artificial sweeteners, honey, or fruit juices. Place something red on the feeder. Clean your feeder with hot soapy water at least twice a week to keep it free of mold.
- Butterflies need resources other than nectar.
They are attracted to unsavory foodstuffs, such as moist animal droppings, urine and rotting fruits. Try putting out slices of overripe bananas, oranges and other fruits, or a sponge in a dish of lightly salted water to see which butterflies come to investigate. Sea salt provides a broader range of micronutrients than regular table salt.
- Learn more about pollinators
Get some guidebooks and learn to recognize the pollinators in your neighborhood. Experiment with a pair of close-focusing binoculars for butterflies, bees and hummingbirds.
This is an opportunity for all ages. Everyone can become a butterfly parent. Kids under 12 will need some adult assistance. It is quite easy to raise the Monarch species of butterfly. Burpee is making it even easier for you. Burpee will provide the larva and your habitat…and you will refresh the leaves (Milkweed) and clean out the habitat.
It is FREE with admission to the Museum.
1. Find Milkweed.
Before you bring you new baby home, take a quick drive about your area to spot some food sources. Chance are you will quickly spy the purple flowers and green stalks growing along roadsides, near farms, bike paths and even highways. Be sure to choose spots free of chemical sprays.
2. Stop by Burpee to pick up your larva
The eggs are hatched and we have lots of babies looking for homes. Come on over and we will give you the larva and a habitat to take home for FREE with your paid admission. Pre-registration is required for larva pickup.
Call for more information: 815-965-3433
3. Feed your Monarch Larva
Your little larva will want fresh milkweed. If you have milkweed nearby, you can pick a fresh leaf or two every day. If you don’t, cut a stalk with many leaves and put it in a vase with water (just like cut flowers) to have fresh leaves for many days. You should wash leaves to be sure they are clean (and free of predators) and that will also provide extra hydration for your larva. If you use the cheesecloth provided, you should not have to worry about mold inside the cage.
4. Clean the cage daily
A dirty, habitat filled with Monarch frass (poop) can cause many problems for your larva. We have the best success cleaning by taking the larva out on his/her leaf, dumping the frass outside by shaking the container, and then placing the larva back inside the cage. You don’t need to use any water or soap to clean the habitat during your larva’s stay in this habitat.
5. Don’t make multiple age/size roommates
The tennis ball can habitats provide a great single occupancy size. By the time the larva is full grown, he or she will need the space. Additionally, the caterpillars will often eat smaller caterpillars as part of their milkweed meals.
6. Share your journey!
We can’t wait to hear about the growth of your baby Monarch. Post to facebook and twitter and use hashtags to share with us! You will be able to learn from other citizen scientists too!