Inspiration is a funny thing, you never quite know what form it may take. For a class of eager students at the Jamestown Audubon Center recently, that inspiration flew in on delicate wings of orange and black.
"A lot of people want to raise Monarch Butterflies but have absolutely no idea where to find them, or how to go about seeing them, so what we do is we take them outside, we show them how to find the eggs, how to find the caterpillars, and what they need to do to raise them successfully," Jeff Tome, a Senior Naturalist at the Jamestown Audubon Center said.
The life cycle of the butterfly is a complex one, so raising them must be done with care and attention. From egg to butterfly these insects go through some remarkable changes. Making the process even more tenuous is their dependence on Milkweed plants for their survival.
"Monarchs only eat Milkweed, so if you try to put them in a little container with grass, which everyone does when they see caterpillars, it will die. So, you raise them up on the Milkweed, and they grow sixty times bigger in two weeks. If a baby grew that big, they would go from the size of a baby to the size of a school bus, it's that much growth," Tome said.
Monarch Butterflies are also unique in that they are one of the few insects that migrate to warmer climates in the winter. The migration actually is accomplished over several generations, as the insects have a fairly short lifespan.
"The butterflies we have here, in August will start heading to Mexico, and that's a direct flight all the way to Mexico." Tome said. "In the Spring,they'll fly North, maybe to Texas or Oklahoma and most of them will lay eggs and die there. Then they'll get up to the Midwest, lay eggs and die and then we'll get the next generation."
All these factors combine to make life difficult for Monarchs if any part of the process is disrupted, and that's exactly the scenario unfolding right now.
"Monarchs habitat in the Midwest has been decimated, mostly because of the amount of corn we need with Ethanol and all of the different kind of things we use corn for now. Huge areas of Milkweed have disappeared, and with huge areas of Milkweed gone they lose that spot to lay their eggs. Last year the population went to the smallest we've ever seen it," Tome said.
Fortunately, this is an environmental crisis that all of us can help remedy. Raising butterflies is fascinating for all ages,says Tome, and provides some intimate insight on one of nature's most amazing transformations.
"To see that same spark of joy you see in a five year old's eye, as you do in a retiree's eye, there's something about Monarch Butterflies that just connects people across all spectrum of life.And they're taking that with them, and hopefully inspiring their friends and family, and connect with things," Tome said.
To learn more about these striking insects, you may want to attend the Center's Monarch Festival, to be held on August 30. For more information, visit their website.