Very interesting and a most complete description, thank you. Sorry to say, though, that I have to question the necessity of so much effort in Florida, although of course your friend may derive much pleasure from watching the process. I'm pretty sure that all the milkweeds will grow like weeds in Florida. My experience is if you plant milkweed, you will get monarchs and monarchs definitely occur in Florida. When I lived high on an arid hill in Xoxocotlán, I had quite a few Asclepias curassavica plants and lots and lots of monarchs. I would find the chrysallises hanging all over the place, not at all necessarily on plants. Since the area was rural, I was surrounded by flowering wild plants beyond whatever flowering things I had in my own yard. And yes, the chrysallises are a thrill to see. When it's almost time for the butterfly to emerge, the cases turn the color of old gold and gleam in the sun. Magical! Here are some links about monarchs in Florida, including the admonition to not allow A. Curassavica to flourish all year. Although it's a lovely plant, there are plenty of more northerly Asclepias to keep around.
I didn’t think to ask who supplies my friend with the larvae, but I assume it’s some kind of a monarch rescue non-profit. I would think the goal would be to have mini colonies starting up in as many locations as possible to stave off extinction if one or more of the remaining natural colonies/wintering places experiences a devastating loss, due to climate change, weather event, habitat loss or disease. A little redundancy - and perhaps introduced genetic variability - is a GOOD thing, to my mind. Even if Florida is abundantly blessed with flowering plants to attract butterflies.
Of course I left the area so long ago that I have no idea about the butterfly situation in the 21st century (for me, it's been 50 years). In my childhood, there were countless monarch butterflies in Mississippi (and plenty of other beautiful ones). I would never have imagined that anything needed to be done to nurture them. Nevertheless, if I had stayed there all of these years and noticed the decline, I am quite sure that I would have wanted to do something.
One thing I do know is that in France, there seem to be far fewer butterflies than in my Mississippi childhood. Normal? Abnormal? I have no idea. Most of the butterflies that I see here are cabbage butterflies, which have never been the most popular ones, especially for people who grow cabbage.
The previous photo was a female. The one in this series is a male. You can tell by the black dot on the fretwork of the rear wings.
My friends' garden is overflowing with butterfly-friendly plants, and butterflies. Many monarchs lay eggs on the milkweed plants in the garden. Milkweed is the only food the larvae will eat, though adults will sip nectar from many different flowering plants. Only one egg is laid on the underside of a milkweed leaf so the larva don't run out of food. My friend collects wild-hatched larvae from the garden and puts them in the safety of the cage because, who doesn't like to eat a worm?!
The adult butterflies normally don't live real long lives, 2-6 weeks, though migratory generations live somewhat longer. The individuals that arrive on the wintering grounds are not necessarily the ones that set out from their natal milkweed patch, and same with the return. Instinct is amazing! (You can see how worn out the one above is.)
The plants that have been fed to the larvae in the hatching structure get eaten down to sticks and have to be given time to recover their foliage. My friends have something like 70 potted milkweeds in rotation for this process.
I sure enjoyed babysitting the monarchs and am in awe of the process, and of my friends dedication.
Ohhhh ~ fascinating & beautiful! I love the picture where the wings show through the soon-to-be-discarded chrysalis. Did you find any chrysalises outside? Sometimes they turn an incredible rich gold color -- really look like metal.