On Raising Monarchs

by Julia Cipriani

Monarch egg. Photo by Julia Cipriani

Monarch egg. Photo by Julia Cipriani

I have been a number one admirer of the Monarch butterfly for a very, very long time. I find their mid-June arrival in Canada and their September journey to return to their over-wintering grounds in the mountains where the Oyamel fir trees grow in Mexico awesome in the truest sense of that overused and misused word. Many people are infatuated with the monarch. Organizations use the symbol of the monarch quite freely to demonstrate their “celebration” of nature.

In the late 1980s I started collecting the eggs and young larvae which I found on the roadside milkweed in late June. I used window screens salvaged from a flea market to create a shelter on the deck of the cottage where I spent part of my summer. I stuffed the host milkweed plants into bottles and replaced the food as the plants dried out or as the larvae munched through them. Sometimes this involved moving the rapidly growing larvae from the plant which was drying to the new plant.

This is easy to do if you can gently persuade the caterpillar to move over to the new plant. If that does not work, you can break the leaf off the plant the larva is on and lay the leaf on the new plant.

Often the mature caterpillars escaped the shelter. The chrysalis formed in sight and out of sight. If the adult butterfly hatched in the shelter, I opened the screen to allow it to fly when it was ready to take its leave. I introduced the monarch’s life cycle to anyone who showed any interest. A couple of neighbours started raising the eggs and larvae.

I have not had access to that cottage for many years. It is only in the past few years that I have again found and provided shelter for the larvae, using a small cage I created to contain the larvae and to provide a place for the mature larvae to anchor the chrysalis on the roof of the shelter.

This summer I found 10 young larvae on the re-grown milkweed along the mowed side of a road near the same cottage where I used to spend summers. I assume they were the newborns of the first arrivals. I brought them back to Ottawa on the collected plants where I found them. Then I found a few more larvae at another site. Not all of the larvae made it. One died during one of the caterpillar’s instars. One chrysalis fell during the transformation from larva to chrysalis. I released 10 adults in 2014 – 3 females and 7 males.

Until this spring, the host plant of the monarch – Common Milkweed – was on the noxious weed list in Ontario as it is poisonous to some grazing farm animals. Gardeners ripped the milkweed plants out of their gardens and lawns. Herbicide spraying by farmers using Roundup in order to get rid of the milkweed growing on the edges of their fields and along the roadsides of their property also reduces food sources for monarchs. Secondary roads in Quebec and Ontario are mowed regularly during the summer months to control weeds. This practice also removes the Common Milkweed plants upon which the butterflies lay their eggs or kills the feeding larvae.

I see myself as positively interfering with nature. I can easily rationalize my gathering of eggs and larvae as a very small attempt to mitigate some of the damage done on a much larger scale. Raising monarchs from egg or from young larvae is a five to six week long commitment. Please do not even consider collecting the eggs and larvae if you are not willing to tend to them. You need to provide fresh milkweed daily during the 2 week larval stage. I do not collect all the larvae I find, leaving some to mature in their natural habitat. After 10 days in the chrysalis, the adult emerges, pumps fluid into it wings, rests for about a day and then needs to be released to forage, mate and, if a female, to lay eggs.

For a few summers I volunteered in the Fletcher Monarch Way Station. I was delighted to participate in creating a butterfly-friendly environment full of leaves to munch or nectar to sip. It is vital to have chemical-free habitats for monarchs and all of the other creatures who occupy the meadow.

Diane Lepage has done an amazing job of organizing and overseeing the transformation of the area. She welcomes volunteers for the Wednesday evening Butterfly Meadow group. Fighting the Dog-strangling Vine is a hard but essential task. Not only does the plant choke out native sources of food for pollinators, sometimes Monarch larvae hatch upon DSV when the female adult monarch mistakes the plant for milkweed. The larva die because they cannot digest DSV.

Please check the Fletcher website if you are interested in supporting the Butterfly Meadow team.

Immature larva by J Cipriani

Immature larva by J Cipriani

Mature larva on Common Milkweed by J Cipriani

Mature larva on Common Milkweed by J Cipriani

Preparing to hang by J Cipriani

Preparing to hang by J Cipriani

Fresh chrysalis by J Cipriani

Fresh chrysalis by J Cipriani

On the verge of hatching by J Cipriani

On the verge of hatching by J Cipriani

Pumping fluid into wings by J Cipriani

Pumping fluid into wings by J Cipriani

Mature male Monarch enjoying life! by J Cipriani

Mature male Monarch resting before taking wing by J Cipriani

 

 

Art in the FWG

29 July – 
 
Volunteer Barbara writes:
 
As you happen to walk past the birch trees behind the Butterfly Garden or over towards the unusual grafted tree near the Ash Woods, you will notice some changes in these two little areas, as created by installation artist Karl Ciesluk. 
 
Karl, an established artist with many installations and sculptures to his credit in Canada and internationally, most recently created a labyrinth for the “Beyond the Edge: Artists’ Gardens installations”, organized by Canadensis Botanical Garden Society in the neighbouring field just south of FWG. A couple of Fridays ago he approached some Fletcher volunteers about using a natural feature at FWG as the basis for a temporary work of art.  After considering the proposal and placing some limitations as to what could be done, the Management Committee agreed that he could create something at FWG.
 
Karl has chosen two concepts: using the birch trees to create ladders to heaven, a homage to volunteers who have died, and wrapping the grafted tree (a Camperdown elm) to highlight the beauty of its limbs. No chemicals or cutting tools will be used and the treatments can be easily removed. FWG will add small signs at these two locations to acknowledge the installations.
 
There has been controversy about this decision to permit artistic expression at FWG. Karl’s purpose is to show people other ways of looking at nature and our relationship to it, in his own way somewhat similar to what the Fletcher Wildlife Garden is trying to do. 
 
***
 
A question to ponder is how do we balance natural spaces, the desire to have spaces be quiet for wildlife and the art, which will attract people to then come and observe?