Can I move these monarch caterpillars?

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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

Monarch caterpillarThe 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. smiley

17 thoughts on “Can I move these monarch caterpillars?”

  1. 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.

    http://bit.ly/dZPKow

    Good luck!

    Monika Maeckle
    www.texasbutterflyranch.com

  2. 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.

    Susan Handjian

  3. 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?

  4. //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.

  5. I would trust the caterpillar. If it’s happy on the other milkweed, it’ll probably be fine.

  6. I have a monarch caterpillar that nestled itself inside a piece of the orange gardening tape before I was able to plant it. Should I leave the caterpillar alone and leave the tape or move it to a leaf? Thanks, Kim

  7. Hi Kimberly, thanks for writing. I’m not sure I understand the situation. Is the tape on the ground? If you don’t need that piece of tape, then it’s probably best to leave the caterpillar inside it and then just move the whole thing to a safer place on a leaf or branch and tape or pin it in place.

  8. Thanks, it has moved to a leaf 🙂 just wanted to make sure it was able to eat, it’s still a small caterpillar.

  9. This is quite helpful. My caterpillars are on a tropical milkweed plant that I noticed has aphids on it.
    Should I leave them alone or move them to another milkweed w/o aphids.
    Thanks
    Jane

  10. Can I safely transport my cage containing both chrysalids, J’s, and larvae to a school for an afternoon? Will the travel damage any of the above?

  11. Hi Gwyn, I posed your question to Monika Maeckle from Texas Butterfly Ranch (http://texasbutterflyranch.com). She said: “You can definitely move everything via the cage. Just try to keep the same temperature if possible–i.e. don’t do a dramatic move from a cool garage to blazing hot sun or vice versa.” Tom@askanaturalist.com

  12. Hi Jane, I also asked Monika Maeckle from Texas Butterfly Ranch (http://texasbutterflyranch.com) about your question. She said: “Aphids don’t harm the caterpillars and they coexist on milkweed. Aphids DO attract beetles, wasps and other predators and dump honeydew on the leaves of the plant which eventually can choke it if the population gets out of hand. But technically they don’t harm the caterpillars and indicate a clean, pesticide free plant. See this post for more: http://texasbutterflyranch.com/2016/08/09/when-aphids-suck-the-life-from-your-milkweed-heres-how-to-safely-get-rid-of-them/.”

  13. I am raising baby cats in the house and they seem ready to go out on a plant. How do I transfer them?

  14. Just a reminder to readers interested in monarchs that the Texas Butterfly Ranch (http://texasbutterflyranch.com/) is a great resource for Monarch information. And this fall, they will hold a special butterfly festival “The Festival takes place during peak Monarch migration week in San Antonio, October 20 -22, when all the Monarch butterflies east of the Rocky Mountains funnel through Texas on their way to Mexico to roost for the winter.” If you are within driving distance of San Antonio, check it out.

    As for Phyllis’ question about moving baby caterpillars, what are they on now? Where are you located?

  15. I just found a monarch caterpillar attached to my stair railing in the “J” position. Is it too late to move it before it starts its chrysalis?

  16. Probably not a good idea. Is this indoors? If not, can you just leave it where it is till it forms a chrysalis?

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