A.  A lot of people do not realize that Texas has a state insect: the Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus). In 1995, a resolution was passed by the Texas State Legislature making the Monarch Butterfly the state insect. (The Monarch Butterfly is also the state insect for Alabama, Idaho, Illinois, West Virginia, and Minnesota!)

The Monarch Butterfly is easy to attract and easy to raise for release. Many schools choose this species of butterfly in a raise-and-release program. It gives young students a chance to observe the complete life cycle of a butterfly.

My wife has successfully carried out this program with her students at Moody Methodist Day School. They raise the caterpillars and observe them as they undergo the change of stages to a butterfly. Then the class has a special day to release the butterflies back to the wild. They have also planted Butterfly Weed and Pentas to attract and feed their Monarch butterflies after their release.

Most home gardeners can easily raise Monarch butterflies right in their own backyard. I planted six Butterfly Weed plants in my backyard last spring. In about 3 weeks, there were Monarch caterpillars all over the plants. Do not be excited when they eat all the leaves on your plants. This is a normal process. The leaves will grow back quickly.

The larva of the Monarch Butterfly is a distinctly marked black and yellow banded caterpillar. You need to observe them daily, for they grow quickly. During this stage, the caterpillar will shed its skin several times. The caterpillar will grow to about 2 inches in length.

The next stage (pupae stage) is a beautiful thing to observe. Look around your yard and you will see the Monarch Butterfly’s chrysalis. I have found them everywhere, some even attached themselves to the sides of our hot tub. You will recognize the Monarch chrysalis by it’s bright, shiny green color and gold speckles.

In about 10 to 12 days, the adult Monarch will emerge as a breathtaking black and orange butterfly. The male Monarch Butterfly may be easily distinguished from the female by noting the two highly visible black spots on the insect’s hind wings and the thinner black webbing within the wings. The female’s webbing is thicker and she has no identifying wing spot as the male does. Adult butterflies feed on nectar, and the Monarch Butterfly will return to the same Butterfly weed to feed on its flower.

Now you can say that you have the State insect in your own backyard. Butterfly gardening is an exciting, educational and fun project for the whole family. Both young and old will be delighted at the amazing changes taking place before their very eyes. You, too, can share in the wonder of nature taking place right outside your back door.

Larva of the Monarch Butterfly

Monarch Butterfly Chrysalis

The male Monarch Butterfly (above) may be easily
distinguished from the female by noting the two
highly visible black spots on the insect’s hind wings
and the thinner black webbing within the wings.
The female’s webbing (below) is thicker and
she has no identifying wing spot as the male does.

This web site is maintained by Master Gardener Laura Bellmore, under the direction of William M. Johnson, Ph.D., County Extension Agent-Horticulture & Master Gardener Program Coordinator.

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