By Katrina Relyea, VIC Summer Naturalist

 

Young Katrina releases her first monarch.

The first time I ever interacted with a butterfly was in early elementary school. Our classroom had a unit on butterflies, which resulted in me getting to release a monarch in my backyard. Since then, I’ve only raised a monarch butterfly one additional time as a nature specialist at church camp. This summer, however, that all changed.

At the time of writing this, our Butterfly House is home to approximately sixty-four monarch caterpillars and chrysalises, among other species. As I helped change out their milkweed, I contemplated the fact that it would be this generation that would migrate to Mexico come fall. How an insect that began its life as small as a grain of sand could develop a body capable of such a journey is beyond me!

Almost a year ago I read a book describing one woman’s encounter with these fantastic flyers. Despite being a work of fiction, Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior is

Present day Katrina helps the VIC educate visitors about the monarch life cycle.

full of details on monarchs. I felt that I was the main character, learning along with her about the plight of this species. From the first fiery encounter to the February mornings of frost coated wings, I mourned their losses and rejoiced with their successes. Knowing how fragile a balance was required during their migration, I anxiously awaited this summer’s first arrivals.

One morning at the VIC the first flash of orange was sighted. Looking out the windows into the pollinator garden, we watched the inaugural monarch flitting between milkweed stalks. Word spread quickly among the staff.

“Did you see the monarch?”

“Where?”

“Out back in the garden!”

Being the first sighting of the summer we let this one remain outside. Patiently, we waited for the next butterfly. It was almost time to get our nets out and add a new species to the Butterfly House!

Monarch butterfly eggs on the underside of a milkweed leaf.

Monarch caterpillar (full-grown) munches on milkweed.

Monarch caterpillars prepare to enter their chrysalis.

Adult female monarch butterfly.

In the months that followed we have been very busy. We are currently raising our fourth generation of monarchs who should be emerging from their chrysalises in two weeks and beginning their migration south for winter. As the summer winds down we are preparing for our last hurrah with our winged friends.

August 17th is our Butterfly Festival (1-4pm), a day filled with free crafts and a tagging demonstration. Come join us for an up-close experience of your own!

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