How to Safely Move & Hang a Monarch Butterfly Chrysalis
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.
We are brand new to the monarch world. We have several butterfly weed plants out back; we live in SW Louisiana and that is what was available when I got the plants and it has certainly worked out well. We have had caterpillars all summer, but of course every time they decided to form their chrysalis, they would disappear. We recently got a butterfly enclosure and I put a few plants in, and as of today, we have two chrysalis’s in the enclosure! However one of them formed on the bottom of the enclosure. Have you ever seen one do that? The caterpillar was curled up on the bottom this morning and I thought it was dead. The only thing I’m thinking of is that maybe it was at the top last night. We had a strongish storm come through, so maybe that caused it to fall off. Anyway, I’m glad I didn’t do anything because when I went outside a couple of hours ago it had formed his/her chrysalis! I had no idea how quickly they form a chrysalis because it had to have been an hour and a half tops from when I saw it still at the bottom as a caterpillar, and when I went outside and saw it in it’s pretty green chrysalis. And I am VERY glad I found this article. I am planning to move it to the top in a few days. I’m not really sure I have a question other than could it possibly have formed on the bottom because it is sickly or diseased? When I move it, I will put it as far away from the already hanging chrysalis as possible, just to be sure. And thank you for this excellent article with pictures for this beginner!!!
Hi, shortly after my first chrysalis formed and before I knew what could happen, a second monarch caterpillar ate the area around it, causing the chrysalis to fall. The cocoon still looks great but it no longer has a black stub (cremaster?) that you mentioned in the article to pin and weave a tie to it. I now have the chrysalis resting on a tiny plastic cradle to keep if off the dirt and as nearly vertical as I can set it. There is clearance around it but not really below it (gravity has been fighting me on alternate positions!)
Do you know of other options to position it better?
Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)
Hi John, wow, we have never had a caterpillar eat a chrysalis’s cremaster. If there is no black stub or cremaster left, I think the steps you have taken are the correct ones. Some people use glue to attach a chrysalis so it can hang, but most of those cases the chrysalis still had at least a part of its cremaster protruding. If it is in an enclosure, maybe prop it up like you have but keep it close to the side of the enclosure so when it emerges from its chrysalis, it will have something to hold onto and climb so it can hang upside while it pumps fluid from its body, into its wings. It will help even more if you were present while it emerges so you could help it along and make sure that it can properly hang. If that sounds like too much, you may try a spot of glue from Elmer’s or possibly a low heat heat gun to glue it to something so that it can hang properly. Hope that helps and reach out if you have any other questions or concerns, good luck!
Just a quick update on my Sunday post about relocating a chrysalis.
This morning we had a successful eclosion!
So with your advice and a lot of luck a beautiful, healthy perfect male has been added to the Monarch population.
A very happy day.
With much appreciation.
Burnetta and Eric
Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)
Great job Burnetta and thanks for sharing!
We have been trying for years to help our Monarchs thrive in our yard in Northwest N.J.
Lots of milkweed, native flowers and plants,no chemicals and even let plants that we are not fond of remain in place because we know these plants make safe spots for a chrysalis.
If we find a chrysalis in an inconvenient spot we take every precaution to be sure it is not disturbed.
However this morning we found one it a spot, that absolutely had to be relocated.
Every summer I review instructions online to be familiar with the procedure,just in case.
So this morning it was now or never for this beautiful jewel.
I went online and came across your site,liked your simplicity, got a good vibe and a lot of courage and sucessfully relocated the chrysalis to an area in the shade that seems to be preferred real estate zone for our caterpillars this year.
Now hoping for the best.
A million thanks,
Burnetta and Eric
Hello! Just started raising these beauties and I had a quick question regarding the “wiggles” they tend to do when feeling “in dangered.” So I know this is a natural thing they do but my question is this: “are the chrysalis suppose to wiggle if they feel threatened during the entire process of metamorphosis?” Or do they get to a point where they get still the closer they come to hatching? I have three chrysalis that are not wiggling anymore. I found this out during the process of relocating them and I’m worried something is wrong. Please help! Before it’s too late for my babies. 🙏 thank you! -♥️🦋Erica
Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)
Hi Erica, the chrysalis’s should be fine, don’t worry about it too much as I don’t recall them wiggling a whole lot once they get closer to their transformation time. Good luck!
I found a jade colored jewel attached to my snow shovel handle where it was leaning against the house. I’d been using it as a big dust pan. I have tied string around the tiny black protuberance at its end. I was thinking of hanging it under the deck but I’m afraid it might get caught in a spider web when it flies. Any other ideas. I am new to this. Thank you.
Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)
Hi Ed, hanging it under your deck or porch should work out fine. If there is a place closer to the edge that has less spider webs, once it finishes drying itself after emerging, it should fly towards the open light. Good luck!
I am not raising monarchs, but somehow (?!) a caterpillar got in my house and decided to hang on a the bottom of a step in my back stairwell. It has been about a week, and I want to get it outside before too late. Thank you for your instructions, which I will be attempting to follow! My question is, where should I hang it outside where it will be safe from predators and will be able to come to maturity?
Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)
Hi Susan, any protected place should work just fine, underneath a porch or awning would work great.