My 2020 Monarch season: 154 releases (73 females / 81 males) Survival rate: 93% In the wild, the survival rate is only about 3%. I kept a log book this year, journaling my observations, release data, and what we named each butterfly.
This past year was hard, no doubt, but it also taught me to slow down and savor the details.
Each summer when the milkweed sprouts in the field I grew up in, I start the search for the first tiny pearl of a monarch egg. Sometimes I see a monarch butterfly first, but often, I find an egg before I see a butterfly dance, and when I do, monarch season has begun.
I’m a survivor of ten years of domestic abuse and captivity. While raising monarchs for the past five years I have come realize we have much in common. Like a butterfly, I have gone through, and am still experiencing transformation. Monarchs endure a painful, but beautiful life, full of changes, not for the faint of heart, and they find a way to through to the other side.
This past summer I released 154 monarchs in my backyard in Biddeford, Maine.
It started out five years ago with one tiny monarch egg and one bug box. I wanted to share with my young daughters what my mother had shared with me as a child — the miracle of metamorphosis. Each summer since that first bug box, my efforts have expanded, along with the realization that the monarchs I don’t save from the neighboring hay field will be destroyed with the harvest. So, this year, it was no monarch left behind. I went out each day, often with my daughters, and collected milkweed for their food, while scouring the milkweed plants for any eggs or caterpillars we could bring into our outdoor habitat. It’s important for the monarchs to be raised outside so they can become the acclimated to the weather and rhythms of the sun. The best conditions for raising monarchs protect them from predators while still affording them an outdoor life. Next season, my hope is to have a permanent structure, similar to a greenhouse, but with screen so the monarchs can experience as close to being in the wild as possible, while still safe from harm. We also raise Black Swallowtails as we find them, because why not?
Little did I realize while I was protecting these critters and providing them shelter, they were providing shelter for me. I’ve formed a symbiotic relationship with the monarchs. As I held down their canopy when unforeseen summer storms tried to blow them over, or when I carefully accounted for the babies just hatched from their eggs, caring for monarchs was caring for my own heart that is trying to pick up the pieces after ten years of being torn apart.
From the tiny eggs we find on milkweed leaves to the winged beauties we release, the entire process is something to watch outwardly, but is healing inwardly. Observing monarchs with a wounded soul and a watchful eye, I documented moments, findings, and numbers, at times being brought to tears when some of didn’t make it, as what happens in the natural world. Raising and releasing monarchs last summer with my daughters not only brought us through the pandemic summer, it helped each one of us along in our journey, while helping monarchs along with theirs.
The day of each of the butterflies’ releases, we gave them a name. As their new wings soared to the sky, I felt my own self soaring with them, free.