Why Gatineau girl is a ‘young hero’
‘I found out monarchs were in trouble and I wanted to do something’
Twelve-year-old Genevieve Leroux rattles off a lists of the amazing things she loves about monarch butterflies — the beauty of their emerald green chrysalis, the magic of watching a butterfly emerge and spread its wings for the first time, their incredible migration each fall thousands of kilometres to the mountains of Mexico ...
“When I was little I didn’t know all that,” she says. “I just thought they were the closest thing to fairies.”
Since reading about monarchs in a Ranger Rick magazine when she was nine, Genevieve has become a butterfly crusader, catching and tagging butterflies for research and spreading both milkweed seeds and a message of conservation wherever she goes.
This year the Gatineau Grade 7 pupil is one of 25 recipients of the $10,000 Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes, which celebrates “public-spirited young people” in the U.S. and Canada. Genevieve, who moved to Aylmer from California with her family in the summer, is one of two Canadian residents honoured by the prize, which was founded in 2001 by children’s author T A Barron.
“I found out monarchs were in trouble and I wanted to do something,” Genevieve said. “I read about the Butterfly Heroes program from the National Wildlife Federation and I asked permission to do it and they said, ‘Yeah, that would be great.’ So we took the pledge.”
That pledge to help monarchs led Genevieve to learn how to germinate the seeds of milkweed — the only plant on which a monarch will lay eggs and the only food monarch caterpillars will eat — and begin collecting, tagging and logging butterflies.
Genevieve was born and grew up in San Luis Obispo along the California coast, midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. The California climate may be easier for monarchs, but the land is not. Developers have cut the eucalyptus trees in which monarchs overwinter and paved over the fields where milkweeds once grew. The western migratory monarch faces extinction within 20 years, she says grimly.
Things are better for monarchs in her new home in Eastern Canada. Genevieve and her mother, Kimberlee, have been amazed at the amount of milkweed they see in Ontario and Quebec. And in recent summers, it seems, monarchs have been everywhere in the region, even though the insect was put on Canada’s endangered species list in 2016.
This summer, Genevieve joined the Friends of Gatineau Park and the Ottawa Field Naturalists on an excursion to look for monarch eggs. She has also collected and tagged monarchs for Project Monarch, affixing tiny stickers to their delicate wings that will allow researchers to track their journey to and from their wintering grounds.
“You pinch it really gently, but even if a few scales falls off, it doesn’t hurt them,” she says, using a folded napkin to demonstrate her tagging technique.
“After a while we got pretty good and I can even do it myself without any help. But the first time we were so scared our hands were shaking so much. We were really nervous we were going to hurt it.”
She also logs the physical characteristics — are its wings in good shape? how fat is the body? — and uses an adhesive tape to gently take a sample from its abdomen which she sends to the University of Georgia. There, researchers will check for the OE parasite (Ophyrocystis electroscirrha) which is spreading through the monarch population. The microscopic parasite damages the insects wings, leaving them unable to fly.
So far, Genevieve has tagged 124 butterflies, mostly back in California. No. 125 will come some time in the next week when, with luck, the monarch caterpillar she collected while out on a dog walk emerges from its chrysalis hanging in a small cage made of netting.
“It’s the most amazing thing you could ever see. It’s mind boggling,” she says.
Since arriving in Canada — her dad, Jason, is Canadian — Genevieve has written to Gatineau Mayor Maxime Pednaud-Jobin and Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson encouraging them both to take a pledge of their own to make their cities monarch friendly. She has already convinced the mayor of San Luis Obispo to do so.
And what would she say if she had a sit-down with their worships?
“I’d just say how easy it is to help. It’s not hard. There’s just a few things they need. They need pesticide-free gardens so they can find food and a place to live. That’s what will help the most,” she said.
“And I’d say that monarchs are really cool.”