Guest Author: Jenine Tankoos (Let’s Go Green Together)
My family has 56 cats! You’re probably picturing the four-legged furry kind, but we only have one of those. Cat is also an affectionate nickname for caterpillars among people who raise monarch butterflies. This unique and incredible insect needs our help these days.
What’s so different about monarchs?
Monarch butterflies weigh less than a paperclip, yet they fly 3,000 miles each fall to spend the winter in Mexico. Not only that, the monarchs that find their way to Mexico have never been to Mexico! It was their great-great-great-grandparents that journeyed north from Mexico the previous spring. I am truly in awe of these graceful little creatures.
Why do monarchs need our help?
The amazing monarch migration is endangered. Like many animals and plants, monarchs are victims of habitat loss. Female monarch butterflies will only lay their eggs on milkweed because this is the monarch caterpillar’s sole source of food. However, milkweed is disappearing from the migratory route.
How did my family get started raising monarchs?
I call my youngest son, Aaron, “The Butterfly Whisperer.” Four years ago, a family friend who teaches 3rd grade and raises monarchs in her classroom, gave a chrysalis to Aaron. When the butterfly emerged, Aaron was hooked! “Let’s get some caterpillars,” he said. A year-and-a-half later he won the Garden State Green Award largely for raising monarch butterflies in his bedroom. With the help and support of his big brother, my husband, and me, Aaron has since expanded his efforts to raise butterflies at our home.
How we help monarchs and monarchs help us
While all four members of my family keep our eyes open for monarch eggs and caterpillars on milkweed in our yard, Aaron finds the most. We collect the ones we find and raise them in protected tents and cages, which raises the caterpillars’ survival rates from 5% to 95%!
We strive to increase the monarch population by not only protecting them but also helping to share the monarchs’ story with others. We bring our caterpillars to local nature fairs and we often release our butterflies with friends. While our goals have always been to help save the monarch migration, my kids have also learned a lot along the way, and not just about butterflies. They have seen that they can be citizen scientists, that they can make a difference in the world, and that kids can be teachers and role models.
Hope for the future
The United Nations’ Global Goal #15: Life on Land states that we should, “Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, […] and halt biodiversity loss”. Raising butterflies is our family’s way of doing just that.
When you release a butterfly you understand why they are so often used as a symbol of hope. Even after doing it hundreds of times, releasing a monarch butterfly always fills me with joy and a sense of optimism. For my family, the monarch caterpillar symbolizes a hope that enough people will do their part to protect nature and all her creatures. And when we see the interest and excitement of people young and old who we introduce to our monarchs, I think it is indeed possible.
Also, check out our educational book about it: bit.ly/2greenbook.
Two other websites devoted to monarchs are:
Do you know of a family who is engaged in social good? Let us know! We are always on the lookout for fantastic families to feature.