Monarchs are such magical creatures! Their quick transformation from adorable chubby caterpillars into goo-filled jeweled chrysalids, and finally magnificent butterflies, is nothing short of mind-blowing. But just because monarchs are magical doesn’t mean they are particularly invincible, or all that logical when it comes to where they decide to form their chrysalis. Sometimes, we may need to step in and help – and move a monarch chrysalis to protect it from impending doom!
There may be times in your journey of raising monarchs, or simply when you find them in your garden, that you may want to assist with relocating or hanging a chrysalis. Come read along to see why and how to safely do this! If you are feeling nervous about it, hopefully the photos and videos below will help ease those worries. It is a delicate process, but very simple to do!
To learn more about raising monarchs, be sure to check out this article too: “All About Monarchs: How to Attract, Raise, & Release Monarch Butterflies”
Why is chrysalis spacing important?
As you likely already realize, it is absolutely essential for a monarch to hang upside down from their chrysalis immediately after emerging as a butterfly. The moment they emerge is also called “eclose”. After eclosing, the act of hanging upside down enables their fresh, crumpled wings to fill with fluid, straighten, and dry. Most often, a monarch will cling to its now-empty chrysalis casing to hang. Sometimes they will wander onto a nearby surface to hang as well.
If a monarch doesn’t have adequate space or the ability to hang to dry, their wings will not form correctly. More likely than not, they will be unable to fly. Unless you intend on hand-rearing a flightless butterfly in a cage, this means certain death for them. When relocating them, provide at least 1 to 2 inches around the sides of their chrysalis, and about 4 inches of space below.
When to move a monarch chrysalis?
One instance you’ll want to intervene is when a formed chrysalis falls (and miraculously doesn’t break!), and thus needs to be hung back up. Or, you may want to move a monarch chrysalis when a silly caterpillar chooses to make its chrysalis in a less-than-ideal location. We have had many caterpillars hang from the bottom of an aging leaf that is going to fall from the plant soon. Not the best idea, guys. Some of ours like to cram themselves up against the enclosure door or zipper, which is also precarious. I move those ones too.
Many people who raise monarchs move their formed chrysalids into a designated enclosure to elcose in. For biosecurity and sanitation, it is best practice to not have fresh butterflies emerge over the majority of the caterpillar population. The largest concern is sloughing of OE spores, a protozoan parasite that affects monarchs. I also relocate any chrysalids that look unhealthy to me, for example, with an off color or form. If I suspect they may have disease or parasites, I move them to a separate space (usually outdoors) away from the rest of the babes.
In the example photos below, you’ll see a monarch caterpillar that chose a pretty sturdy spot on a milkweed stem to form a chrysalis. It probably would have emerged just fine there! However, it was time to rotate that munched plant out of the monarch enclosure. Therefore, that chrysalis needed to be carefully removed and relocated.
How to Move a Monarch Chrysalis
- A pin, needle, or safety pin. I like to use a ball point sewing pin, as shown below.
- Dental floss or thread
- Small scissors
Step 1: Wait until the Chrysalis Hardens
First things first: Do not attempt to move a monarch chrysalis that has not completely hardened yet. After the caterpillar transforms into a chrysalis, it usually takes about 1 to 2 days to fully dry and harden. If you move it before then, you run the risk of breaking or damaging it, especially if you accidentally jostle it in the process. When a chrysalis breaks, cracks, or otherwise starts oozing liquid, it is game over.
If you find a chrysalis and aren’t sure when it first formed, wait another day to move it – if it seems safe to wait, that is! When they need immediate assistance (i.e. tachinid flies are swarming, or it is about to fall) then do what is necessary regardless of time. Just be extra gentle.
Also note that a monarch chrysalis will turn from green to dark grey to black, and finally become totally transparent (revealing the black and orange wings inside) before a monarch butterfly emerges. So, if the chrysalis in question is still green, know that you still have at least a couple days to move it before the butterfly is coming and needs to hang!
Step 2: Loosen the silk pad
Examine where the top of the chrysalis meets whatever surface it is attached to. Often times, it will look like only the small black tip of the chrysalis (called the cremaster) is what is holding on. In reality, the caterpillar has spun a large perimeter of silk material around the spot from which it hangs, called the silk pad. The silk pad may be as small as a dime, or as expansive as silver-dollar and beyond. They attach their hind end to a thick part of silk in the center, called the silk button.
To loosen their silk pad, I gently insert a pin between their cremaster or other visible silk and the surface it’s attached to. Carefully pull and wiggle to loosen the silk from the surface. It will usually stay in one piece, attached to the cremaster. Continue to loosen the silk until there is enough slack to pinch and grasp the silk and cremaster. Gently pull it all away, detaching the chrysalis and silk from the surface it was on. You can use your fingers, or tweezers if needed. Cup your free hand under the chrysalis in case it falls.
Once you have the chrysalis in hand, set it somewhere safe and secure to continue the next steps. They are slippery and light! If it is windy, the chrysalis may blow around. Consider setting it on a washcloth or something to help hold it in place.
Step 3: Create a new faux “silk” to hang it
Next, we need to tie something around the very top of the chrysalis to re-hang it with. I know some people simply stick a safety pin through the excess remaining silk and hang them that way. However, I have seen pins rip through silk, so I prefer to do something a tad more secure.
Waxed dental floss is a wonderful material to hang a chrysalis, because it is thick and sort of sticky. Knots made with waxed floss will not slip! Thread can be used as well, but may not be quite as sturdy or easy to work with.
- Cut a piece of floss about 4 to 6 inches long, depending on what you plan to hang the chrysalis from.
- Tie a loose knot in the center of the floss to create a small loop. Do not pull it tight yet.
- Slip the little loop over the silk and black tip of the chrysalis – the cremaster.
- If there is a large amount of silk, I will often cut it down to a shorter nub (but not all the way off!) before slipping the loop over. Otherwise, it tends to get in my way. You definitely want some left behind though, or it is too easy for the floss to slip right off the top of the cremaster.
- Finally, pull your knot tight around the cremaster, or the area where the cremaster and silk meet. I usually make a double-knot.
- If you ever encounter a chrysalis that is missing all the silk, it is okay to put a tiny dab of glue on the cremaster where you tie the floss. This will help it from slipping off.
Step 4: Hang your jewel
Using the loose ends of the floss, I tie the chrysalis around one of the small secure branches in our largest monarch enclosure. This enclosure is designated for eclosing butterflies and only the biggest, about-to-hang cats. It is okay if you don’t have something to tie the floss around per se! If you are using a mesh butterfly tent, simply tie the floss in a loop and pin it to the roof of the tent with a safety pin instead.
The chrysalis doesn’t necessarily need to be super tight against something. Monarch butterflies do usually hold on to the chrysalis itself when they emerge and hang to dry… However, I have seen a few start to slip from their chrysalis and instead crawl onto the nearby stick or mesh surface to get a better grip. Thus, that could be an instance when having a large loop of free-hanging floss (not tight against another surface) could be a disadvantage. They don’t have much else to grasp onto in that case.
Remember, let that baby hang! It can take several hours for a monarch butterfly to dry, even if their wings look fully expanded. In an enclosure, they’ll usually start flapping around a bit when they’re ready to get out and fly. I gently transfer them on my fingers from the enclosure to a nectar-producing flower in our yard, hanging them upside down from the flower as well. Check out this article to see our Top 23 Plants for Pollinators!
If a monarch slips from its chrysalis or surface while it is still wet, immediately assist it to re-hang and properly dry. If they seem too weak to hang on, continually slipping, it is possible they have a disease such as OE, other parasites, or virus. Let’s hope you won’t have to deal with that too much.
And that is how you safely move a monarch butterfly chrysalis!
Check out these for a better visual demonstration. The front door jam of our largest enclosure became very congested, so I was re-locating several to create more room. Click the arrows on the right to view all of the slides.
I hope this post makes you feel more confident to help your little friends out and move a monarch chrysalis when they’re in need! Trust me, I was nervous when I did this for the first time too. You’ll get the hang of it! Just be gentle and treat them like the precious jewels they are. And don’t accidentally poke them with the pin!
I should note that there are a few other ways I have seen folks hang and move a chrysalis. Some even use glue! This is simply the way we have found most efficient and effective. Please let me know if you have any questions, and spread the monarch love by sharing this article with friends.