Getting the precious ones through winter

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  • #44409


    Hi to all,
    First post.
    I now have about 60 monarchs,my second year of breeding them.
    Last year I had less than 20 and slowly watched them die over the winter period despite warming in the house for a few hours and feeding with honey water with a couple of drops of soya and lemon juice.
    I am looking for any help to get these wonderful creatures through the winter.
    Have planted seeds (indoors), last years plants which are growing ? for how long, and all preparations for spring. I`ve had no problem with hand pairing monarchs, my only obstacle seems to be having remaining butterflies in spring with food for egglaying and food for them.

    Question, any help on getting these through the winter for breeding–last year was a disaster !.
    Monarchs ARE breeding in Invercargill,unless anyone is releasing them, I let 2 fertile ladies free and by chance met up with one of the staff who had plants outdoors producing multitude of caterpillars successfully reared to pupae ( childrens ward at the hospital).
    Could any one in Invers help–My phone no 0274868619 ?.

    I also know of a fantastic area of around a few acres covered in buddliea, does anyone know the legalities regarding planting swan plants seeds to this area with a view to providing the perfect environment for breeding monarchs.

    need help and contacts with more experience !!


Viewing 7 replies - 1 through 7 (of 7 total)
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  • #44502


    Hi Faithgale – I think that sometimes we fret too much over them. Monarchs have been surviving for millions of years without our help.

    My suggestion would be to put it outside in as warm and protected a position as possible – one where it is out of the wind and the rain – and let it do its own thing.

    I hope that is helpful.




    Hi Jacqui. I’m in Takapuna
    Taking the advice you gave me last week, I have attempted to let my newest 6 butterflies go in the current sunny spell (though cold), putting them outside on the swan plants and camellia bushes, but they seem reluctant to fly away. Tomorrow will be day 3 outside. What should I do?
    If I could find a place in Auckland where people have seen Monarchs “over-wintering” I’d be prepared to take them there. After all the effort in taking caterpillars out of the wasps’ way, and raising them to chrysalises, it would be a shame to see the butterflies perish like this. Another butterfly emerged tonight and there are 10-15 still to come.
    Please advise.



    Hi Guy

    Gordon here from Earthlore Insect Theme Park in Owaka. Just to let you know that we have had Monarchs over winter here, although not in large numbers. The cold doesn’t seem to bother them so much. The big problem in Owaka is getting enough sunny days for the adults to feed during hibernation. My feeling is that if you breed in big enough numbers a colony will establish over time. It’s taken three years for the butterflies to acclimatize, with us releasing up to 100 butterflies each season so you will need to be in for the long haul.

    May your butterflies flutter by,
    Inspector Insector



    Hi Guy!

    I am in the South East of England in Surrey not as cold as Lancashire but it get’s cold enough.
    The key to success is to mimic natural conditions as far as possible. On days when there is winter sunshine and the temps outside are above freezing and also warm enough for the Butterflies wake up to feed you could place the cage outside so they get real sunlight but just make sure, wherever you place them at night it is frost protected. They don’t need to be kept particularly warm but long exposure to temperatures below 0C is dangerous. It won’t be easy but through trial and error you may find a good method that works.



    Many thanks for replies.
    Down in Invercargill, caterpillars and plants only appear in the nurseries around mid January (if we`re lucky),the main reason for wishing to overwinter them.
    I have some old plants from last year sprouting nicely indoors and the vege patch now allocated to buddliea bush and milkweed seeds.
    Many thanks for Terrys`advice.
    Being originally from the UK can remember some very harsh winters in the north (lancashire), probably worse than we have in Invercargill.
    Have noticed little activity from the butterfly cage recently.
    Would placing them in the garage overwinter and checking frequently be sufficient to see them through winter period?. Our winters quite often extend to November,but have some warm mid winter days. Have read honey/sugar +drop of soya+drop of lemon juice at approx 10% to water should be good feed for them, would this be correct as all looking fat and healthy at 6 weeks old.
    Here`s hoping for a big release in spring



    Hi Jacqui and Guy!

    Could I just add something that might help Guy with overwintering Monarchs in his Southern and therefore much colder location. I have overwintered Monarchs in the UK where the winters are very cold and more similar but still colder than the area Guy lives in. They overwinter fine if kept outside in a Greenhouse/Butterfly type structure and the temperature kept just above freezing through the coldest parts of the winter. Keeping them indoors is always very difficult if not near impossible. On sunny winter days when kept in the manner suggested above, the Monarchs I had would fly down to the feeders and then back to the Lemon Tree in my Butterfly House to cluster for the night. They were infertile from November to February (our winter) due to short photo period and cold. Once the temperatures became higher and the days grew longer a tipping point was reached and then it was all systems go once more. The more you can mimic natural conditions the easier it will be to keep them alive over the winter period, or if you like playing a sort of environmental trick on them.



    Hello Guy

    I will be interested to hear what others have to say, but you are the first person I’ve seen in here who identifies as being a Southlander/Invercargill. That’s wonderful to hear!

    I’ve always presumed that monarchs don’t overwinter in your region but rather that

    (a) as the numbers of monarchs build up in spring in warmer regions, and as the temperatures warm up, that fertile monarchs will fly further south and populate your milkweeds, and

    (b) people from Invercargill etc purchase or are gifted swan plants with eggs/caterpillars on them from places further north and transport them home.

    I’m in Auckland and we can see monarch larvae from time to time throughout the year, indicating that while some monarchs are in diapause others continue to breed. Egglaying in earnest can begin in August or September, depending on when “spring arrives”. People from cooler regions in the South Island have reported here in the past that they don’t see monarchs until as late as December or even January.

    However, this year I’m sure that our friends at Earthlore (Owaka) commented on seeing monarchs back in their beautiful habitat as early as October.

    “…remaining butterflies in spring with food for egglaying and food for them.”

    Are you saying that you don’t have milkweed (e.g. swan plant) in the spring?

    I wonder why you are trying to keep them captive throughout winter? My thoughts would be that this is unnecessary and that if you haven’t got the conditions “just right” the triggers that start sexual reproduction. If you released them and let them do the natural thing in the autumn then the survival rate might be higher and more monarchs would return to your garden in the spring.

    Have you tried Asclepias incarnata or swamp milkweed? It evidently grows very quickly and provides excellent spring food for monarchs, growing very quickly, so great for the early monarchs. You can grow it from seed (tricky) but once you have it growing it forms a rhizome and although the plant doesn’t provide leaves all summer long it will regrow the next spring.

    There was an article in one of our magazines a few years ago about this plant. Seeds are on sale on our site.

    As far as scattering milkweed (e.g. swan plant) seed in the area where the buddleias are you would need to contact Environment Southland to discuss this with them. You could also google their website and find out how the buddleia is classified – in some regions it has pest status – and no doubt you’d be devastated to find that soon after you’d scattered the seed, the buddleias were sprayed or removed!

    Best wishes with your ideas and I will be interested to see what others have to say. Hopefully there are others living closer to you than me!


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