|The Question: I have a number of patches of milkweed throughout my garden, and noticed this afternoon that a group of monarch butterfly caterpillars have eaten nearly all the leaves and flowers of a single plant that sits alone, separated by a driveway from a large patch of verdant milkweed. My question to you is, can I move the caterpillars across the driveway to the more lush vegetation? It looks as though they have only one more day of living off the single plant. Many thanks for a prompt response. It’s a joyous time when they appear, and I want them to be able to develop fully.
Submitted by: Susan, Coastal California, USA
The Short Answer: They probably would be fine where they are, but I don’t think it will hurt to move them. Of course, the milkweed on the other side of the driveway, which might not be verdant for long, probably would have a different opinion.
Monika Maeckle Says:
You can indeed move the caterpillars, although the less you handle them the better. You can simply break off a piece of the plant or a leaf on which they’re crawling and move it to the more robust plant. You can also use a clean, small paint brush to scoop under them and get them to load up as you relocate them to a more ample leafed plant.
If the caterpillars are about to chrysalis, they will typically wander away from the plant, so if they are late in their development, it may not hurt to leave them on the defoliated plant.
However, if they’re only in their second or third stage, they will need more food. Typically Monarchs eat 200x their weight in milkweed leaves before making their chrysalis. Here’s a video of a Monarch munching on milkweed.
Susan Handjian Says:
Thanks to you both for the prompt response. Monika, by the time I received word that you had commented,I had successfully moved 16 caterpillars of all sizes to greener pastures. I noticed that while they played dead as soon as I removed them, once I laid them on a new leaf it only took 30 seconds or so for them to come to life and dig into their new food source. I very much appreciate the video and additional fascinating information.
Hi – I hope you can advise me. We have one chrysalis and two monarch caterpillars on SINGLE a completely defoliated swan plant. Should I leave the caterpillars on the bare stalks or will they die? I have no other swan plants to put them on – so if I should move them is there any guide on what to move them to?
How well do they handle being moved from one variety of milkweed to another? Does anyone know?
Jay M. Says:
//How well do they handle being moved from one variety of milkweed to another? Does anyone know?//
I recently brought home a monarch caterpillar on a native broadleaf milkweed I bought at a garden center. It ate almost all the leaves on its original plant, and I was getting worried it would run out of leaves before it pupated (and the garden center didn’t have any more broadleaf), but all on its own it decided to move over to a nearby tropical milkweed, and is happily munching away.
Tom of AskaNaturalist.com Says:
I would trust the caterpillar. If it’s happy on the other milkweed, it’ll probably be fine.