Have you ever wanted to pick up a butterfly? Maybe you’d like to, but you’re afraid of hurting it. The good news is, there are ways of handling butterflies and caterpillars without causing damage to the fragile insects. In this article, we’ll talk about how to hold a monarch butterfly, as well as a few related topics.
What You'll Learn Today
- How Do You Hold a Monarch Butterfly?
- How Do You Hold a Monarch Caterpillar?
- How Do You Relocate a Monarch Chrysalis?
- How Do You Transport a Monarch Butterfly?
How Do You Hold a Monarch Butterfly?
Monarch butterflies are beautiful, majestic insects. Holding and picking up a monarch will not hurt it as long as you do it properly and carefully.
There are two good ways to handle a monarch butterfly. Let’s take a look at each method in turn.
1. Let the butterfly land or crawl onto your hand
This is the best way to hold a monarch, as it is least likely to result in the butterfly being injured.
If you see a monarch nectaring on a flower or resting on a cool day, place your finger in front of the butterfly, gently touching its front legs. Allow it to crawl onto your finger on its own.
Using this method, you can avoid touching the monarch’s wings altogether, and the butterfly won’t feel any stress because it won’t see you as a threat. It will either fly away on its own or will crawl onto your hand willingly.
Once the butterfly is on your hand, allow it to sit or move around freely. Be careful to hold your hand steady so the butterfly doesn’t spook or get injured.
2. Pick it up by the wings
This method of holding a butterfly takes a little more skill and caution. It is possible to damage the butterfly’s wings, but if you are careful and do it right, you shouldn’t have to worry about hurting it.
Approach the monarch smoothly and quietly. If its wings are closed because it is resting, gently take the butterfly between your thumb and forefinger, holding its wings lightly together.
If the butterfly’s wings are open as you approach, gently close them before taking hold of them.
When holding a butterfly by the wings, you want to hold onto the upper wings near the body. This is where the wings are strongest and least likely to be damaged.
The butterfly will probably be flailing its legs, looking for something to hold onto. Place it on your hand or a flower, letting go of the wings as soon as possible.
It’s important you don’t hold a monarch this way for very long. The longer you hold onto a butterfly’s wings, the greater your chance of damaging it.
Check out this video for a great demonstration of how to handle a butterfly without hurting it:
How Not to Hold a Monarch
When holding a butterfly, there are some things you definitely want to avoid doing. Improper methods of holding a butterfly include:
- Between the wings: You should never try to hold a monarch with its wings open or pressing down between the wings. Not only can this damage the butterfly’s body, it may cause it to break a leg or a wing as it attempts to escape your grasp.
- By one wing: One of the worst ways to hold a monarch, or any other butterfly, is to take hold of it by one wing. The butterfly will instinctively begin to thrash around to try and get away from you, and if you’re only holding onto one wing, that wing may break off in the butterfly’s attempt to escape.
- By the legs or body: Never grab onto a monarch’s leg or body, as you may cause damage that could kill the butterfly. Attempting to grab it by the legs will probably result in one or more legs being broken, and if you hold it too securely by the body, you may cause internal damage.
How Do You Hold a Monarch Caterpillar?
Now that we’ve talked about holding an adult monarch butterfly, what about a monarch caterpillar? Is it even safe to hold a caterpillar?
Yes; as long as the caterpillar is large enough that you can avoid squishing it, there are safe ways you can hold monarch caterpillars. Let’s talk about the two best methods:
1. Let it crawl onto your hand
As with adult monarchs, the best way to hold a monarch caterpillar is to let it walk onto your hand of its own accord. Place your hand in front of the caterpillar and allow it to feel its way onto your finger.
The caterpillar may move slowly or may attempt to go around your finger at first. Change your hand position to keep your finger in front of the caterpillar; once it gets used to you, it may walk onto your hand without hesitation.
2. Carefully pick it up from the sides
You can also gently pick up a caterpillar, but you’ll want to be careful not to squeeze too hard; doing so can injure or kill the caterpillar.
Take the caterpillar between your thumb and forefinger, holding it on both sides somewhere in the middle of its body. Gently lift up, separating its suction-like feet from the leaf or stem it’s sitting on.
As soon as possible, place the caterpillar on your hand or another leaf; it may not move at first. You want to limit the amount of time you’re holding the caterpillar between your fingers, as doing so for more than a minute or so can hurt it.
How Do You Relocate a Monarch Chrysalis?
If you find a monarch chrysalis that has fallen or is in a bad location, you may wonder if it’s safe to move it. The answer, of course, is yes, as long as you are being very careful not to damage the chrysalis.
- Tie a thread around the stem: You will notice a little black stem at the top of the chrysalis attached to a bit of silk. Carefully tie a piece of thread around this stem, being careful to keep it on the stem and not let it get around the chrysalis itself.
- Remove the chrysalis by the silk: If the chrysalis is still attached to a plant or other object, gently loosen the thread with a needle or your fingernail. Lift the chrysalis away, carrying it by the piece of thread tied around its stem.
- Secure the chrysalis: Reattach the chrysalis to another stem or a wire mesh cage by tying the thread onto the object. Make sure the chrysalis hangs down loosely.
You can also attach the chrysalis to an object by taping the thread to that object. This method works best if you plan to keep the chrysalis inside, out of the weather, until it hatches.
How Do You Transport a Monarch Butterfly?
So, what if you need to move a monarch butterfly to a new location? You’ll want to use a lot of care and a light touch, but you can safely transport a monarch if you follow these steps:
- Place the butterfly in a mesh cage: Soft mesh insect cages are perfect for transporting butterflies. The butterflies may flit around inside the cage, but they will not be injured because the screen sides and fabric floor will be soft.
- Transport it securely: If you are driving, have someone go with you to hold the butterfly in the cage. Have them hold it carefully to avoid shocks and vibrations.
If you’re walking to move the butterfly only a short distance, carry the cage carefully and walk slowly and steadily.
- Open the cage: Once you’ve reached your destination, open the mesh cage and hold it still for a few minutes, allowing the butterfly to find its own way out into the open.
- Lift the butterfly out if necessary: If the butterfly won’t move from the cage, put your finger inside and allow the butterfly to climb on. If it resists, carefully pick it up by the wings, as described above, and place it on a plant or flower outside.
To hold a monarch butterfly or caterpillar, it’s best to let the insect crawl onto your hand on its own. That said, there are methods you can use to safely pick up the butterfly or caterpillar, provided you have a gentle touch and are careful not to injure the insect.