Ryan Trares: Hope on the Wings of a Butterfly


A flurry of orange and black floated inside the plastic container.

Looking inside, a freshly hatched monarch butterfly has spread its wings.

Anthony came running excitedly to see. He watched over the monarch chrysalis for days as it hung in an old take-out food container. Now the life cycle had come full circle.

Monarch butterflies, and their increasingly endangered existence, have become my mother’s favorite project. A former kindergarten teacher, she took it upon herself to support these royal insects as much as possible.

She planted milkweed – the main food source for monarch butterflies in the form of caterpillars – in her garden. Monitoring the eggs, she carefully transplants them into an aquarium, where the unhatched eggs can remain intact. Once the caterpillars hatch from the eggs, Mom makes sure to spin the fresh milkweed and clean their container.

Such care is certainly necessary.

Over the past three years, populations of migratory eastern monarch butterflies have dropped by more than 80%, according to the World Wildlife Foundation. This summer, the butterflies were listed as “endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

One of the main drivers of its struggles has been the destruction of the milkweed necessary for the butterflies to survive. Herbicides and habitat destruction have left insects without the food and shelter they need to live.

This is a problem for all of us.

So my mom tried to help where she could. And she made sure Anthony knew how important monarch butterflies are to our world.

This year has seen some success through his efforts. She was able to release a number of monarch butterflies into her garden; at this point, their survival is in the hands of nature.

On a recent trip back to Ohio, she had a few pupae forming. Knowing how much Anthony loves insects and nature, she gave him one tied neatly in a plastic container.

Anthony made sure he was securely wrapped in the car, placed in the back seat where he could watch him on our drive home. He chose a spot on our porch where the container would be protected from wind and sun, as well as possible predators.

And we waited.

Every day Anthony stuck his head out to see the developments. We held the vessel and watched the green pupa carefully, examining it for signs that emergence is coming.

Then, without even paying attention, the butterfly hatched.

I found it when I was watering the plants before after dropping Anthony off at school. I waited for him to come home, then asked him to check the chrysalis.

“It’s a butterfly!” he cried, his eyes wide and with a smile.

We carefully carried the container out into the garden, where our blooming butterfly bush provided both protection and nourishment for the newborn. Anthony slowly knocked the container over, letting the monarch slide down the bush. Still exercising its wings, the insect stabilized itself, then looked up at the pollen-filled flowers all around it.

Convinced the butterfly was safe, we headed back inside. When we checked later, the monarch was gone – hopefully, traveling safely from flower to flower to build up its strength.

It’s just a butterfly that, overall, doesn’t help the monarchs’ situation much. But Anthony felt like he had helped, if only a little, to make the world a better place. And I agree.

Ryan Trares is a senior reporter and columnist at the Daily Journal. Send feedback to [email protected]

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