19 Oct Raising Monarchs During Isolation
Each year, from August through October, a group of dedicated volunteers participate in a monarch rearing program organized by Washington State University entomologist David James and Cowiche Canyon Conservancy. The goal is to rear and release healthy butterflies as part of a collective effort to track western monarch migration from the Pacific Northwest and prevent the population from collapsing. In past years, we have hosted a community celebration for our monarchs and our volunteers called ‘Music and Monarchs’ at Cowiche Creek Brewing. This year, due to COVID-19 health concerns, there will sadly be no live celebration.
Below are two accounts of this fall’s isolated experiences, celebratory in their own way.
My Experience Rearing Monarchs
by Sharon Allen
“In nature’s infinite book of secrecy, a little I can read.”
– Soothsayer in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra
I am so grateful for the experience of rearing the monarchs, and sharing that experience with my seven- year-old granddaughter, Luella. In these challenging times, being able to be celebrate new life and nature’s miracles is a special experience for us — one of us very young, and one pretty old.
When we experienced the loss of caterpillars to virus or unknown reasons, Luella asked me if I was sad. Yes, I was, and we both reflected on how we had enjoyed watching and feeding them. When Luella said, “I wonder about that chrysalis and how the really big butterfly can be scrunched up in it,” I reflected on what a wonderful event birth is and how it can disarm and surprisingly give hope to all of us. When Luella asked about whether the butterflies would all live and where they would go, we read some books and hoped that every one of our tagged buddies would make it to some warm tropical place. I thought about the power of positivity and how hope and good wishes for the future can follow every relationship.
We have truly enjoyed this experience and credit the Conservancy for the look into nature’s book of secrecy that we have been provided.
My Month with Monarchs
by Leslie Smyer
Amidst the pile of milkweed leaves lie quarter inch caterpillars. Eleven. I am their custodian for the next month. I worry I’ll squish them or accidentally throw one out as I clean the habitat of “fras” (caterpillar poop) and old leaves. Each day I count them. Eleven.
For two weeks: Eat, sleep, grow go the caterpillars. Gather milkweed, rinse milkweed, clean habitat, and watch with amazement go I.
While reading, from across the room I hear a soft crunch, crunch, crunch. They’re eating. Two inches long now and fatter every day. They stretch from leaf to leaf, or dangle in mid-air, or twist into circles.
Day 12. One caterpillar releases a sticky silky thread. Out of this thread it weaves a hanger. The caterpillar hangs from it in a J.
Day 13. The final layer of skin is shed. A green wet blob with gold flecks remains. It hardens into a beautiful, shiny green and gold chrysalis. I watch in awe.
Day 25. The chrysalis looks black. Looking closer I can see the outline of monarch wings. She is soon to emerge! Suddenly pushing herself out, twisting and turning she pumps fluid into her wings, unfolding and expanding them. Slowly they begin to open and close, drying. So exciting to witness this rebirthing. Such a wonderous event.
Tomorrow she will be tagged and released with a hope and prayer for a safe flight. May she and the ten that follow be a part of our efforts to prevent extinction of the monarch butterfly in the Pacific Northwest.