|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.
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.
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?
//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.
I would trust the caterpillar. If it’s happy on the other milkweed, it’ll probably be fine.
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
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.
Thanks, it has moved to a leaf 🙂 just wanted to make sure it was able to eat, it’s still a small caterpillar.
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.
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?
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
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/.”
I am raising baby cats in the house and they seem ready to go out on a plant. How do I transfer them?
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?
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?
Probably not a good idea. Is this indoors? If not, can you just leave it where it is till it forms a chrysalis?
Hi, I have just transferred some caterpillars to a new swan plant as they munched the other one right out.
One caterpillar will not attach himself to the leaves. Any ideas why?
Worried that he will starve as he keeps trying to wander away from the plant through the dirt. I pulled leaves off and put them along the ground and he still rolls around and falls off.
I’ve heard they can be fussy eaters? Maybe he’s not keen on the new plant! 🙁
Hi, it seems that out catapellers have to walk a long way to find a safe nesting tree and end up on our lani screen which isn’t good because the cats try to get them. Is there a way of telling when they are done eating and I can move them to a safe tree location to create their cocoon? I have successfully done this but I really don’t know the exact time to take them and I would hate to take them before they had their fill of milkweed. any information as far as determining their maturity would be appreciated. thank you. Jeff
That’s probably a good question for the people at https://texasbutterflyranch.com/ who know a lot more about monarchs than I do. Tom
I have a caterpillar that has attached itself to a wall. I think it is trying to form a J but it’s head is touching the wall. Should I try to move it before it forms a pupa or can they pupate successfully from this position?
I think if it has already started to attach itself, you should probably leave it. You might be right that it’s going to have a problem, but if you remove it, it might not be able to attach again and it will just die. But ask the people at Texas Butterfly Ranch. They know more about these guys than I do.
i had to move caterpillars that was ready to cocoon because they were heading to the grass with no place to cocoon did I do the right thing
That was probably fine. Normally, I would say just let nature take its course, but it’s hard to do that sometimes when you see a problem. Tom
I have a milkweed plant that the caterpillars have eaten there are hardly any leaves on now! Should I get a new plant for them and move them to it?
Hi Linda, are there other milkweeds nearby? Or is this one isolated plant? I don’t see any reason that you can’t move them. Tom
I have a milkweed with what I believe to be spider mites on it. I was wondering if I can transfer the monarch caterpillars to another plant. I don’t want the bugs to come with it.
Hi Kimberly, I’m not sure what you mean. Are you worried that the spider mites will get on the caterpillars? Tom
How far can I relocate caterpillars? Florida to Maryland??
Hi – I’m sure this question has been answered indirectly, but I haven’t seen it specifically, so here goes:
What’s the best way to ensure that caterpillars growing outdoors are able to turn into chrysalides and then butterflies?
I have a few milkweed plants and have watched dozens of caterpillars grow into big, fat, 5th istar type cats, but I have only seen / found 1 chrysalis, which didn’t survive. I’m worried that the surroundings (a Japanese maple, too many succulents to count) or potential predators (lizards, voles, birds) aren’t good for them. So, I’d like to potentially harvest the mature caterpillars and then bring them either inside or to a safer spot outdoors. If inside, should I just follow the advice for growing cats indoors, or is there anything different for caterpillars in the wild? Or… should I just put up some netting over part of the garden area to see if they like that? I just fear so few of these cats are making it to the butterfly stage.
I have a milkweed in a fabrics pot. Have two monarch caterpillars. Think one is done eating and trying to leave the pot, but is just walking around the rim. Our garden is flat, all fabric pots on decomposed granite. Think too far for it to find a plant. Can I move it to a plant?