A lesson in migration inspired me to help these butterflies flourish.
lthough I’d heard about the declining numbers of monarch butterflies, I didn’t know the whole story. And as someone who values the beauty and satisfaction of growing my own vegetables and flowers, I wanted to learn more about this issue.
AIn the winter of 2015, our local science museum featured Flight of the Butterflies, a film documenting the annual monarch migration from as far north as Canada to a specific mountain area in Mexico and back again.
After the movie, we visited the butterfly house to feed butterflies. While there, we learned monarchs have been steadily declining in part because of the decreased availability of milkweed, their essential food source.
That spring I learned as much as I could about raising monarchs. While opinions differ about how pesticides have contributed to the pollinators’ decline, I know firsthand that caterpillars that feed on treated plants don’t survive.
I didn’t want any plants that had been treated with pesticides in the new pollinator garden I planned. So I bought a variety of plants from a local native grower to attract the monarchs, bees and other endangered pollinators.
When the first shoots of common milkweed emerged, I was ecstatic. As the few milkweed plants grew, I protected them as if they were prized orchids. Then one day we saw a butterfly flitting from one plant to another. After she left, I found my first monarch eggs, and thus began my wonderful summer of monarch madness.
In 2015, I raised and released 64 monarchs—not too bad for my first year. Some eggs didn’t hatch and some hatchlings died. Saddest of all were the caterpillars that struggled to emerge from the chrysalis and died during the attempt.
I’m not embarrassed to tell you I cried over some of them. But I take heart knowing that in the wild, only a tiny fraction of the eggs I found would have become butterflies. And of those 64 little orange and black creatures that started life in my kitchen, maybe a few even made it all the way south to Mexico.
At the end of the summer, I scattered the seeds from my wild milkweed farther into our field, hoping they would grow into a large wild patch. With any luck, my native garden will flourish as a glorious haven for butterflies and other pollinators.
I really have a wonderful and satisfying hobby!