Wednesday, 21 September 2011
You probably know the monarch butterfly and its migration patterns - if not, here's the link.
When I was a girl my family had a cottage just east of Point Pelee on Lake Erie. In the late summer and fall monarchs were as common as falling leaves because Point Pelee is one of their launching spots to cross the Great Lakes on their way, in the case of this population, to Mexico. We did not know that, then, but we knew they migrated. Once my mother woke to see a tree covered with many hundreds of them, fanning their wings to dry them of dew, waiting for a favourable wind to take them south across the water.
When my daughters were girls, monarchs made a yearly appearance at our eastern Ontario weekend cabin's fields. The girls collected the caterpillars and incarcerated them in a glass fish tank, fed them on milkweed leaves and released them into the garden when the adult butterfly hatched. Some years we might have more or fewer, but always in August they would be around, close to the edge of their northern limit, happy with the goldenrod and other wildflowers, plentifully supplied with their feeding plant. Here is the Elder Daughter, age ten or eleven, releasing one. Once one of the caterpillars escaped the aquarium and we could not figure out what had happened to it until the butterfly wobbled out from under the dishwasher, not too much the worse for wear. Gave me the grues, let me tell you, imagining what stepping on the caterpillar in the dark would have felt like.
This daughter is now the mother of Little Stuff, whose nickname I will have to change, shortly, as she is growing like a weed. For the last several years they have hunted monarch caterpillars with good success. This year they collected twelve, in all, and ten hatched. As each one hatched, it was given a name and admired before it was released. Here is Little Stuff with, I think, Miriam. Two of the newly hatched were hauled off to school, where they were also much admired. The two that did not make it were very small caterpillars when captured and pupated too soon. I am told that they do better if they are cold at night, so that they will eat for more days. Next year!
Sadly, some years we don't have many monarchs at all. Although we have lots of milkweed, further south there is less and less as big fields take over and the hedgerows and pasture where the plants grow undisturbed are being lost. If you are in monarch territory, you might consider trying to persuade your local government not to spray the plants, or even plant some yourself. These are precious, beautiful and fragile creatures and their life is a wonder.