With the recent decline in the population of the Monarch butterfly across North America, a local mom and her kids are doing their part to help bring the colourful-winged insect back to the southeast.
Brynden Devenny says they started raising butterflies about 5 years ago as a fun summer project. “Then when we moved to Steinbach 4-years-ago, I decided to try planting milkweed to attract our own Monarch butterflies.”
Devenny says they started by looking for eggs on Milkweed leaves. They would then take the leaves and eggs inside and raise them. “We bought a butterfly habitat and we've kind of, over the years raised about 20 to 30 maybe every summer. Last year was the most we’ve had, almost 40 (butterflies) I think. And then this year we've only had about 10 or 15.”
Devenny says they've seen a decrease in the number of Monarchs in the area. “I was thinking that it was due to the cold weather lasting for so long or maybe we missed out on a cycle of them or something.”
She says Milkweed is the only plant that Monarch caterpillars eat. “Because the butterflies lay their eggs on the Milkweed, if there's a decrease in Milkweed, the population of the Monarch will be down as well.”
Describing the process of raising Monarchs, Devenny says, first you look for butterfly eggs which are about as big as Chia seeds and can be found on the underside of a Milkweed leaf. “Most often, the butterflies will lay them on the leaves of the young plants, sometimes in the middle of nowhere or along a pathway, that's what the butterflies are attracted to.”
Next, Devenny says, you bring in the leaf on its own inside. “We keep it (the leaf) in a small yogurt container or take-out container, whatever you have, with just a paper towel underneath. Maybe spray it a little bit with water, just to keep it moist until it hatches. Then once it hatches, you can put it into a butterfly habitat.”
She says, their habitat looks like a mesh laundry hamper. They add clippings of Milkweed to the habitat. “The Monarch caterpillar will eat that for a couple weeks and then it will climb to the top of the cage and kind of form into a little upside down ‘J’ and that's when it's making its chrysalis.”
Then after they’ve been in the chrysalis for 10 to 14 days, the Monarchs emerge from their cocoon. They won't fly right away, they need to wait a few hours for their wings to dry off before they’ll be able to lift off.
Devenny says this is where the fun part begins. “We like to catch them right then and have them crawl on the kids' fingers. Then we bring them down to our milkweed plants, down to where they hatched. And hopefully, start the cycle all over again.”
Though raising Monarchs seems like it’s labour intensive, Devenny says, “In the beginning it was fun, but now that I'm reading that they're endangered, I'm kind of more attracted to trying to save the species. Everybody can do their part, by planting milkweed and wildflowers because the monarchs drink the nectar and don't eat the plant. And why not use fewer pesticides, you know, just to try and keep Milkweed growing.”
Devenny notes, “If you do find a chrysalis on your Milkweed, bring it (the chrysalis) inside because wasps can come and lay their eggs in there and then you'll hatch little wasps instead of butterflies.”