COPD and Summer Activity: Raising Monarch Butterflies

  • Raising Monarchs is a favorite summer activity of people with COPD because it’s fascinating, fun, easy – and inspiring. This sharepost by no means will tell you everything you need to know about raising Monarchs, but you’ll learn not only what to expect in each stage of the butterfly lifecycle, but you’ll find energy and breath-saving tips (BST – in BOLD print) for your part in the process. You’ll see how to take your tiny egg all the way to a wondrous butterfly – and you’ll discover how to honor a lost loved one as you do.

    To grow into an adult, butterflies go through four stages: Egg, Caterpillar, Chrysalis, and Adult.

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    Stage I: The Egg
    A Monarch butterfly starts life as a tiny egg laid by its mother on the leaf of a milkweed plant. You will usually find the egg on the underside of the leaf. To find the eggs, you might have to examine quite a few leaves. Monarchs lay their eggs at the same time each year according to location. Check your time zone to know when you should look for eggs.

    If you have COPD, finding the eggs might be the most physically demanding part of this process. BST: If you normally have trouble standing in one place and / or bending over, take a walking stick, cane or other support with you as you look for eggs. Or sit on a small chair or stool where you can reach several milkweed plants from one spot. Have a kitchen scissors or lightweight garden shears and a clean, empty jar with you.

    A Monarch egg is about the size of the head of a pin, slightly oval in shape, and creamy to pale yellow in color. When you find an egg, don’t touch it. Cut or break the leaf off the plant and put it in a jar (there’s no need to cover the jar until the caterpillar starts crawling) and bring it into the house. The milkweed milk is a bit sticky and will immediately ooze from the cut part of the leaf. But don’t drink it! Milkweed is poisonous to just about every creature…except the Monarch.
    Stage II: The Caterpillar (Larva)
    The egg will hatch within a few days. Waiting for the egg(s) to hatch is easy and takes no extra energy. You can tell for sure if your caterpillar has hatched if you no longer see the egg as it was, but next to it a tiny baby caterpillar about the size of a fleck of black pepper. He’s little, but soon he will be on the move and starting to eat and you will notice little holes in the milkweed leaf. Caterpillars are born hungry!

    As your caterpillar starts eating, he will begin growing almost immediately. His skin does not stretch or grow, so he sheds the outgrown skin several times during his time as a caterpillar. During this shedding process your caterpillar may become very quiet and still for a day or two. Don’t worry. He’s very much alive, and soon he’ll be on the move again!

    At this stage, your caterpillar should have a fresh, moist leaf every day. BST: If you’re able, pick a new leaf from your milkweed patch each day. Or, pick several at one time and store them each between moist paper towels in a sealed plastic sandwich bag kept in your refrigerator. If you’re unable to get out to the garden for a fresh leaf, ask a family member, friend, or even a neighbor child for help. The child will probably enjoy being involved in feeding a hungry caterpillar!

  • Remember, don’t ever touch the caterpillar or try to pick him up and move him. If you do, you might accidentally pull off his legs. So, how do you make sure your caterpillar knows he has a fresh, moist leaf? It’s easy. Take the old leaf, the one the caterpillar has already been eating – and with a small scissors, very carefully cut around the caterpillar without touching him. For example, if the caterpillar is the size of a grain of rice, cut the leaf around him so it is about the size of a penny. Then carefully put the old leaf on top of the new leaf and he will find his way. BST: This is a delicate job, so do it while seated at a well-lit table, nice and relaxed, resting your arms on the table – and don’t forget to breathe!

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    Soon your caterpillar will be eating about one whole leaf a day. At this stage, at least once a day, you’ll have to slowly remove the leaf (with your caterpillar on it) from the jar, discard the caterpillar’s waste and put him (still on his leaf) back into the jar. You’ll be amazed at how much he eats…and how much waste he produces! At this point, your caterpillar is on the move, and you should cover your jar, but make the cover has small holes for air.

    Watch for Part II of Raising Monarch Butterflies titled COPD: Honoring Loved Ones with Monarch Butterflies to learn how to release your butterfly and honor the memory of a lost loved one.

    Jane M. Martin is a licensed respiratory therapist, teacher and the founder and director of and the author of Live Your Life With COPD: 52 Weeks of Health, Happiness and Hope and Breathe Better, Live in Wellness: Winning Your Battle Over Shortness of Breath.

Published On: June 02, 2011