University of Minnesota

Providing quality training on monarch larvae identification without live monarchs

As a trainer for the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project, providing participants with the best possible materials and guidance is key to their success. While having living monarchs makes it easier to demonstrate differences between larval instars, this is not always possible. Their increasing rareness makes them harder to find in the wild now than in the past, the timing of your training may not align with the presence of monarchs, and purchasing monarchs from breeders and butterfly farms is discouraged.

So, what can you do when you don’t have live monarchs to use as a teaching tool?

The simplest solution is to have a lot of pictures or videos, and then cross your fingers that you find monarchs at your training site during the field portions of the workshop. During our trainings, we provide:

  • Photos of individual instars, some including objects for scale
  • Photos of different instars to compare characteristics
  • Photos of eggs and pupae, including objects for scale
  • Close up photos of eggs, larvae, pupae and adults to show anatomy (eyes, spiracles, setae, antennae, etc)
  • Videos of hatching, eating, pupation and eclosion

This information is available in the following resources:

If monarchs have arrived in your area prior to your event, either search for specimens yourself, or ask neighbors and friends to help you out. If you find monarchs, rear them, and remember you can also report data for these in Activity 3.

For trainings, we do a combination of searching for whatever stages we can find and supplementing with photographic examples of the stages we’re missing. No matter what solution you find for in-person training, remember to emphasize the resources on the MLMP website (listed above) to help them practice their egg and larval identification skills. Remember to also point out the handy guide on the back of the MLMP clipboards. If you are not able to provide clipboards for participants, show them where they can find them on our Monarch Store. Also be sure to encourage them to get out and practice as soon as possible; it is most useful to practice when the training is fresh! They can practice looking for and identifying monarchs whenever they see milkweed. Observations of milkweeds (for monarchs) on sites that are not their MLMP site should be submitted as a ‘Milkweed or Monarch Observation.’

Lastly, we encourage you to offer to support to your participants when they are stumped and can’t recall the identifying markers. This may be in the days, weeks, or seasons following their original training. If you are unable to help them, encourage them to reach out to us by emailing

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