Spring Valley women enlist local children to send monarchs on journey

GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE Char Carlson helps Harper Holmen find a butterfly to release.
Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy

“Some glad morning, when this life is o’er, I’ll fly away, to that home on God’s celestial shore, I’ll fly away….”

Just like the old hymn, they’re getting wings. But their wings took a different kind of miracle and a little help from some friends.

Spring Valley resident and monarch butterfly fosterer Char Carlson along with fellow monarch enthusiast Char O’Connor, also of Spring Valley, convened Friday, July 5, on the Kingsland football field, carrying two collapsible mesh laundry baskets aflutter with orange travelers that they allowed students from the school age child care (SACC) program and others who’d learned of their intentions through informal invitations to send off on a 1,000-mile-plus journey. 

“The chrysalis…you find monarchs as eggs on the bottom of a leaf, and when the eggs hatch into caterpillars, they’re no bigger than the end of a toothpick.  After a while and a whole lot of milkweed, they make a chrysalis, and when they’re about to hatch, the chrysalis is clear so you can see their wings,” Carlson told the children prior to the release.

She showed them the pinpoint-small eggs on the bottom of a milkweed leaf, then a photograph of a newly-hatched caterpillar crawling past the end of the toothpick she placed next to it for comparison, and then the milky-green, gold leaf-adorned cocoons that the striped caterpillars spin around themselves to begin the work of growing wings and becoming butterflies that eventually fly away to the mountains of Mexico. 

Carlson and O’Connor have raised the butterflies from egg to orange beauties for a combined five years. This is Carlson’s second year while O’Connor has been doing it for three years, talking Carlson into joining her after her first year. 

“I just did it on a very small scale.  I didn’t know where to start, but once I had a partner in crime, it’s a little more fun to find the eggs,” O’Connor said.

Together in “crime,” they comb the ditches for monarch eggs, often finding them in stands of milkweed, monarch caterpillars’ favorite food.  They do it, Carlson noted, because of the steep odds against survival of the lace-winged ladies and gentlemen. 

“Less than 10 percent of eggs laid make it to adulthood, mostly due to lack of habitat,” she said. “We try to give these ones a fighting chance, so we collect them in the wild, raise them and turn them loose.” 

Raising caterpillars to their transformative state, however, is no small feat, as the ladies agreed that “all they do is eat milkweed, and then they poop.” O’Connor noted that caterpillars require new milkweed several times a day.

“They can eat a bucket of milkweed a day,” Carlson added. “The book ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ is right – they eat a lot.” 

And that keeps O’Connor and Carlson out searching for more salad for the many-legged creatures, affording them opportunities to find more monarch eggs along the way.  O’Connor estimated she had about 150 to 160 last year while Carlson guessed she had just shy of 400 last year, and this year, she already has more than 300.

O’Connor and Carlson enjoy sharing their winged wonders with others, especially children.  They’ve taken their chrysalises and hatched monarchs on the road to show people and allow them to release the butterflies into freedom, bound for someplace else far from here. 

“Last year, we released them at the LeRoy farmers’ market, and we had a good time,” Carlson said.

On the Kingsland football field July 5, butterflies landed on tiny fingers, on a baby’s head, on someone’s bright t-shirt, then chose a moment when they were ready to gently claim their freedom.  And their temporary guardians stood back to watch as they drifted into the July sunshine.

“It takes four generations to make the full round-trip to Mexico and back,” Carlson marveled. “The last generation is known as the ‘super generation’ because they start on the trip from Mexico and fly back again.  It’s nothing short of amazing to know where they’re going.”         





This reporting is irresponsible at best, and the project itself likely doesn't help monarchs by removing monarch eggs from the wild. All that blither about rescuing the monarchs? Good intentions but wishful thinking doesn't help species recover and children are learning inaccurate information.
Scientists have found that local monarchs raised indoors DO NOT migrate. This finding was all over the news in June, so the reporter has done no facechecking. See: https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2019/06/monarch-butterflies-raised-capti...

I have worked in wildlife conservation for decades, and one of the saddest things to see is well-intentioned people thinking they are helping wild species by removing them from the wild! This is doing harm to the survival prospects of this species. I hope someone will inform these good-hearted but seriously misguided folks that the best things can do for Monarchs are: leave them alone, plant milkweed, delay or stop mowing of roadside areas and other places monarchs and many other insect and bird species use as habitat, reduce use of pesticides, and support legislation to protect native grasslands. (including federal programs like CRP and CSP)