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In Awe of Monarchs

“Butterflies... flowers that fly and all but sing.” ~ Robert Frost

With a name indicative of royalty, the Monarch Butterfly has quite the reputation to live up to. Fortunately, it does so with great success. Who doesn’t enjoy the unexpected splash of orange and black as this delicate creature flitters from flower to flower in the yard or appears seemingly out of nowhere on a hiking trail?

Unfortunately for these beautiful insects, their populations have seen a trend that does not bode well. Considered a Species of Special Concern in Ontario, numbers of butterflies overwintering in Mexico have been for the most part on a downward trajectory since 1996 as have overall numbers in Canada.

Monarch populations face challenges due to many factors. Loss of habitat, pesticide use, predators, loss of overwintering habitat, parasites and climate can all have a devastating effect on any year’s populations and the resulting future generations.

Inspired by some social media friends, I felt inspired to try and raise and release some Monarch Butterflies, providing a high probability environment for them making it through the first stages of life as well as creating an opportunity to observe them up close and learn more. This soon became a family affair.

Finding milkweed and viable eggs proved to be relatively easy and the first egg which was found on August 5 hatched within a few days. Soon it was joined by a second and each day brought a new discovery of how much was being eaten, observing the caterpillars going through the transitional stages called instars and being amazed at the speed of their growth as well as how much poo a little caterpillar is capable of producing. It’s remarkable.

Each day brought more growth and activity and on the morning of August 25, the first caterpillar could be found hanging in a J shape from the bottom of a milkweed leaf.

Within a few hours the outer caterpillar skin, much like a discarded sweater, sat in a crumpled heap on the ground and a bright green chrysalis was left to hang, the final stage before the transformation to butterfly.

And there it stayed, the green outer shell concealing the magical transformation that was happening within. Suddenly on September 6, she made her debut. Caterpillar #1, who had previously and affectionately been given the name Chris by my wife, was out, wings drying and testing out her delicate legs on the mesh of the enclosure.

Within hours she was off, released into the world and off to fulfill her destiny. What a fascinating process to observe first hand.

So what’s next?

  1. The plan now is to plant some milkweed on our property, providing a valuable spot for future butterflies to feed and lay their eggs.

  2. Add additional plantings of friendly plants like Zinnia and Butterfly Bush

  3. Look to harvest more eggs and provide a safe and nurturing habitat for them to grow and transition to maturity.

We are all able to do something to help and the opportunity to provide habitat or raise and release Monarchs is a fun way to observe the miracle of nature up close and get the whole family involved in conservation.

Little efforts can go a long way to support these beautiful creatures.

“Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.” – Nathaniel Hawthorne

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