Making a home for magical migrating monarchs by Nicole Kraft
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 1993:
There once was a time when millions of monarch
butterflies dotted the skies each fall, the eastern band
migrating south to Mexico and the western population fly-
ing to the coastal regions of central California. That was a
time before development ruined much monarch habitat,
leaving them struggling to find the safe haven of a milk-
weed field in which to lay the eggs of their next generation.
Judith Levicoff, a habitat educator in Jenkintown,
Pennsylvania, has worked for the past two years in class-
rooms throughout the Delaware Valley to help children
restore monarch numbers, by creating their own butterfly
gardens, and by raising and releasing their own butterflies.
“Too often children are asked to save the rain-
forests and the earth,” Levicoff says. “That is just too over-
whelming for children to fully comprehend. We give them
a hands-on approach to fixing just a portion of nature’s
problems. If they start here, they may gain respect for liv-
ing creatures that will last a lifetime.”
According to Levicoff, butterfly gardens should
be created in mid-May, containing primarily milk-
weed––which provides young monarchs with their sole
food source––but also filled with nectar flowers such as
budlia (butterfly bush), zinnia, marigold, lavender, and
cosmos. A butterfly garden can be started inside for a won-
derful late winter project, but must not be transplanted out-
side until all risk of frost has passed. It must be planted in a
sunny location, protected from strong winds, but it can be
of any size, from a window box to a wildflower meadow.
Monarch butterflies may be collected in the wild
on milkweed plants, their exclusive habitat, or may be
bought. Often a milkweed collection will reveal a surprise
guest, a caterpillar egg glued to the underneath of a leaf, or
a tiny wormlike figure yet to develop its trademark black,
white, and yellow stripes.
Levicoff suggests raising young caterpillars inside
a screened enclosure, ensuring they always have an ade-
quate supply of milkweed to eat. They need a constant tem-
perature of 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and must be mist-
ed with a light spray of purified water (not tap water) daily.
Two weeks after hatching, the caterpillar will attach itself
to the side of the habitat or to a small branch, and hang in a
J-shape to enter the chrysalis stage. It is important not to
disturb the caterpillar at any point during its metamorphosis
or deformities will occur.
According to Levicoff, the chrysalis will darken
rom its jade green color after ten days to two weeks, and
will become clear 24 hours before the butterfly is born.
From the time a tiny black foot emerges from the chrysalis,
it will take an hour for the butterfly to fully emerge, and six
hours before it is ready to fly.
When the butterfly is ready to spread its wings, it
is imperative that it be released into the garden immediate-
ly, to begin feeding on the blooming nectar plants. If it is
not a warm, sunny day, the release may be postponed,
although the butterfly must be nourished either with flowers
from the garden or a sugar water substitute (1:2), dipped in
a cotton ball.
“Butterflies have a great deal to teach us,”
Levicoff says. “Through our interactions with them, we
learn about ourselves, as well as our environment. Here we
can help put back the balance of nature, by providing not
only a habitat for these beautiful creatures, but by increas-
ing their numbers as well.”
All flowers except milkweed can be purchased
either as seeds or through local plant growers. Milkweed,
the mainstay of the caterpillar life cycle, can be found and
collected from local fields, especially during the fall
months, and grown inside.
[Levicoff may be contacted at P.O. Box 212,
Jenkintown, PA 19046.]