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Monarch caterpillars molt (shed their skin) five times throughout their larval stage. The "skin" that is left behind is actually the caterpillar's exoskeleton. An insect's skeleton is on the outside, as opposed to on the instead like mammals, fish, reptiles, amphibians and birds. Endoskeletons provide support inside the body in the form of bones and cartilage, whereas As caterpillars grow, their exoskeleton gets too tight, so they need to shed it in order to continue to grow. Each molt results in a new "instar" stage. Therefore, when the egg hatches, that tiny 2 mm caterpillar is in its first instar stage.


It will molt three more times and grow exponentially over a couple of weeks. Each stage lasts 3-5 days. The fifth and final molt is when the fifth instar caterpillar becomes a chrysalis.


About Naturedigger

Learn, Participate, Conserve has been the foundation of Naturedigger since we started our journey over ten years ago. Our mission has, and always will be, to educate the public about our natural world by offering free education through our website and iOS apps. We offer information and opportunities to participate in community science (also called citizen science) data collection, because we know hands-on involvement leads to more engaged nature enthusiasts, and ultimately, conservationists.

With limited funding and scant personnel, researchers are looking to the public for assistance collecting critical scientific data to further their research. In many cases, this data will provide important information to land managers, local, state and federal organizations, as well as nonprofit organizations, to help them make better informed conservation and management decisions. Naturedigger provides an important link between valuable community scientists and the organizations in need of their expertise and commitment, while also educating the public about the numerous issues we are facing in our natural world.


We hope our personal commitment to providing free, quality, nature education will create a new generation of enthusiastic naturalists and community scientists, who share one very important goal: to conserve our natural world and spread the word.



Naturedigger's founder, Tara Johnson, is a veteran environmental scientist, Certified California Naturalist and avid birder, who, throughout her 25-year career has been employed in both private and public sectors. Naturedigger is a reflection of her many interests, which include threatened and endangered species conservation, invasive species monitoring and removal, community science participation and nature education.


She not only promotes community science participation, but has been an active participant in numerous efforts herself, including developing and leading invasive weed monitoring programs and participating in dozens of organized bird counts over the past 20 years. In the summer of 2022, she became a volunteer at Pinnacles National Park tracking California condors using radio telemetry and educating park visitors about condors.

Since 2014, Tara's professional focus has been on monarch butterfly and milkweed education, conservation and community involvement. In addition to her iOS app, Monarch SOS, Tara has been busy writing books for the past several years on monarch anatomy and life cycle stage identification and North American milkweed identification. These resources will be used by community scientists to submit more accurate data to monarch conservation organizations. Naturedigger has been a partner of the Monarch Joint Venture since 2016.


Tara received her degree in environmental science, and graduated magna cum laude from the University of Massachusetts. Her career began in the early 90s in Melbourne, Florida where she worked with threatened species, including gopher tortoises and Florida scrub jays. Throughout her career, she has conducted wetland delineations, functions and values assessments, monitoring and replications, as well as endangered species surveys, relocations and permitting. She is also an invasive species consultant, educator and researcher.

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