A love of labor for these La Porteans: raising Monarchs

 

May Moore holds a newly-emerged Monarch butterfly just seconds before it flies away.

 

Story by WNLP’s Beth Boardman; photos by WNLP’s Bob Wellinski

Dorothy Bard Jones slowly reaches into a netted container and holds her hand out. “Are you ready?” she says softly. “Come on; I’ll give you a little help.” The little creature in there seems to know what Dorothy is doing. It climbs on her finger and she slowly brings it out to the open sky. Within seconds the colorful little thing flits away, maybe 20 feet into the air and over a fence into a neighbor’s yard.

Bird? No, butterfly. In this case a Monarch butterfly.

 

Dorothy Bard Jones looks at her butterfly habitat where a Monarch awaits release and chrysalises hang from the top.

 

“A lot of times they’ll come back to feed on the plants they came from,” says Dorothy, who has successfully raised 46 Monarchs and 10 Eastern Swallowtails at her La Porte home this summer.
“Only 3 to 10 percent survive in the wild,” Dorothy says of the delicate creatures. The rest – either grown or still in egg, caterpillar or chrysalis (cocoon) stage – are killed by pesticides, mowing or other human hazards. “It’s the Midwest Monarchs that are in danger because of the spraying.”

Social media for a good cause

Over at May Moore’s La Porte home on this August morning, May is releasing one of her Monarch brood. It’s nearly the end of the season for the beautiful insects and this summer May has raised and released more than 60. Her sister, Barbra Otolski, has raised 36 and involves her Lincoln Elementary School 2nd-grade class in the process. Another local, Angela Stark, has raised 70.

This summer May created a Facebook group called “Monarchs of La Porte County and More!”, a fun site where area butterfly enthusiasts – those who raise and those who just love butterflies – can post photos, videos, questions, information and more. The online group has gathered more than 140 members in just a few months and invites all to join. There you can learn just about everything you need to know to set up a little (or large) butterfly habitat of your own. Many new members ask questions and are promptly educated by their more seasoned cohorts. “Are these eggs?” one new enthusiast recently asked, posting a photo of a milkweed leaf with a few dots on it. Indeed they were.

 

May Moore points to milkweed branches in a habitat her husband Richard built.

 

May Moore carefully removes a Monarch from the habitat where it evolved.

 

In May’s back yard, about a 5×5-foot area is occupied by milkweed plants on which Monarchs exclusively eat and breed, along with a butterfly habitat built of hardware cloth and wood frame by her husband, Richard. Throughout May’s yard and the yards of other butterfly raisers, flowering plants and bushes offer blooms where the butterflies can draw nectar and pollinate. They’re welcome visitors to neighbors’ yards.

 

Monarch caterpillars on a milkweed leaf.

 

A Monarch egg on the back of a milkweed leaf.

 

Monarch chrysalises hang from the top of a habitat. The Monarch caterpillars form the chrysalises and then evolve into butterflies.

 

In their fascinating transformation process, The Monarchs lay their eggs on the backs of the large milkweed leaves. The off-white eggs are each smaller than a pinhead. In about a 30-day period they change from egg to yellow/black/white-striped caterpillar to green chrysalis to butterfly. The chrysalis, which hangs from the plant, has a skin which eventually shrivels and grows black. “They totally shed their skin,” May says. The butterfly breaks through the dried wall of the skin, takes a few hours to let its wings unfurl and dry, then flies.

The process is the same when humans like May and Dorothy step in to help, except the raisers find the eggs and carefully place the leaves on which they sit (sometimes a whole branch) into butterfly habitats. The habitats can be purchased online for less than $20 or home built such as May’s. The very small holes in the screens prevent aphids from coming in and eating the butterflies in their various stages. Once the butterflies are ready to fly, their human aides let them go.

In the wild, butterfly caterpillars aren’t bothered by birds. “They’re poisonous to birds,” May explains.
It’s easy to get milkweed seeds or plants from the “Monarchs and More” group or you can purchase them online. But beware: The plant is invasive and you have to keep it under control. If it gets out of hand it has to be dug up to remove the traveling roots.

Some butterfly species go north about this time of year and live out their relatively short existences pollinating plants, mating and laying eggs to produce the next generation.

 

A Swallowtail egg is shown on the back of a parsley leaf.

 

(By the way, at the next cocktail party you attend, try this for a conversation starter: You can tell the gender of a butterfly. In the Monarch’s case, the male’s wings have two extra spots on their lower wings and thinner webbing – those black lines that run through the wings. Females don’t have those spots and their webbing is thicker. Who knew?)

Flying down to Mexico

Then there are not birds, not planes, but Super Monarchs! In early fall these butterflies will start their unbelievable flights to southern Mexico. Think about how a butterfly moves; it’s hardly aerodynamic as it flutters up, down and sideways. While many Super Monarchs won’t survive the migration, others complete the nearly 2,000-mile trip and proliferate in forests there. Each returns to the same forest, and sometimes even the very same tree, where its relatives migrated, monarch websites report.

 

Migration map: A map on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife site (fws.gov) shows the incredible migration of Super Monarchs.

 

“They can fly up to 100 miles a day,” May says. Their offspring of offspring won’t get back to Indiana until next July, expert sites state.

You can tell you raised a Super Monarch if it emerges late in the season and is a little larger than the normal species.

“I tag them,” May says.

Huh? A novice asked how she managed to wrap a little tiny band around their legs much thinner than a strand of thread.

“On their wings,” May says, pointing to a sheet of round stickers, each about the diameter of a pencil eraser. The stickers show a code so enthusiasts in Mexico can decipher where the creature came from and report back to the raiser.

Lots of information out there

May, Dorothy and other local raisers encourage more to join in, saying it’s inexpensive, fun and rewarding for both human and creature. For more information, consider these links, just a few of many:
— Monarchs of La Porte County and More! on Facebook
indianawildlife.org/monarchplan
monarchwatch.org

7 Responses to “A love of labor for these La Porteans: raising Monarchs”

  1. Butterfly Lover

    Aug 31. 2020

    What a wonderful service you Monarch lovers are providing! I planted milkweed plants once with the only outcome being spending two years getting rid of the plants to protect my perennials. Keep up the good work, please.

    Reply to this comment
  2. Ashley

    Aug 31. 2020

    Fantastic article, very informative, and inspiring!! Thank you to all of you ladies for doing this for the community. It’s so nice to be able to read something so positive and uplifting.

    Reply to this comment
  3. Patsy Gutmann Popejoy

    Aug 31. 2020

    Great uplifting story on bringing attention to these wonderful creatures that are often taken for granted. As pollinators they contribute directly to the health of our planet. It’s nice to hear about the enthusiasm they bring out for those involved in their well being!

    Reply to this comment
  4. Marti Forszt Boundy

    Sep 01. 2020

    I am so glad that a FB page was created for people to learn more about the plight of the Monarch butterfly and the impact they have . Monarchs of LaPorte County and More is informative but also a fun place to see the life cycle of these beautiful creatures. Ideas are shared and questions answered. I am fortunate to call both these ladies “friend”, keep up the good work!

    Reply to this comment
  5. Penny

    Sep 01. 2020

    I love the FB page. May and Dorothy are certainly committed to raising them. My perennials have attracted many Monarch and Swallowtail beauties this year. It’s been a great season and the information they and others share makes seeing them even better.

    Reply to this comment
  6. Tim

    Sep 01. 2020

    Thank you for doing this. It’s nice to see folks helping nature instead of destroying it. Our milkweed area begin with one plant several years ago. Now the area is full of milkweed (under control) and we love looking for the caterpillars every year.

    Reply to this comment

Leave a Reply