Monarchs in Canada

I have to say I was overjoyed when, while working in the garden, I saw a lovely Monarch kiss the back of a milkweed leaf and leave an egg.

By: Mary Benton, Co-Founder of Bound by Beauty
By Marissa Consiglieri
A beautiful male Monarch

Bound by Beauty's roots extend north to Canada, where a Monarch butterfly is a precious jewel of nature:

I was asked to describe what the Monarch migration means to three generations of women in Canada for this delightful blog. I would not presume to speak for my daughter and my granddaughter; however, I am happy to share how I got into the nurturing of these beautiful creatures and what this means to me.

As I returned from a five year stay overseas, I found myself having to catch up with my daughter’s life.  My month-long visits every year, couldn’t possibly disclose all the important changes in Gabrielle’s existence, mainly because, while I was away, she had had two children - boy and girl - and if that does not change a person’s mindset, I don’t know what does. In addition to having had two babies, Gabrielle, and family, had moved from the city of Toronto to a sub-rural area in Central Ontario and had developed an even stronger sense of responsibility vis-a-vis the planet and its dreadful current state. Ah, the importance of legacy!

So, upon my return, I was taught about all sorts of things, among them how many pollinators have become endangered; how the Monarch butterfly is an extraordinary pollinator, and how milkweed – a native wildflower of Ontario – had been almost eradicated because it is considered, by many, a ‘weed’. I also learned that the Monarch larvae only eats milkweed leaves before it turns into a chrysalis. It doesn’t take long to figure out Monarchs are very helpful to us, the human race, and that we had decided, for some silly notion, to get rid of the only food they eat in their larvae stage. Aside from the strain caused by humans, both milkweed and Monarchs are vulnerable to extreme temperatures, predators, parasites and diseases; so, as it is, only 10% of Monarch eggs and caterpillars survive and, in 2012-2013, the eastern Monarch butterfly population fell by 95% in Canada (read more about the threats facing Monarchs and their migration and how you can help in David Suzuki's blog http://www.davidsuzuki.org/blogs/science-matters/2016/04/got-milkweed-monarchs-still-need-your-help/).  Therefore, it is better to nurture them protected and to release them once they have emerged from the pupa.

So the Monarch saga begins.monarchdiaries7-2016

Around the time of our move back to Canada four years ago, Gabrielle discovered she had some milkweed in her property and began to cultivate it; in all truth, it only needs to be left alone and it’ll propagate.

Three summers ago, I decided to emulate my daughter and I brought a little shoot to our place in Port Hope, Puerto Esperanza, as I call it. My neighbors are not that happy about that but… It is only this year that I have had plants important enough for the Monarchs to grace them with some eggs. I have to say I was overjoyed when, while working in the garden, I saw a lovely Monarch kiss the back of a milkweed leaf and leave an egg. Of course, no chance to get the phone for a photograph, just enjoy the moment.

It is not all fun, though; raising Monarchs requires attention, time and a bit of work. It can, also, be very stressful. To have an egg go dry, to lose a caterpillar or to see a butterfly not to be successful in filling its wings and flying away are painful experiences. The first time I lost a caterpillar I did not sleep all night wondering what I had done wrong. A dear friend asked me if I really cared that much; yes, I did. The most traumatic experience proved to be the one where a Monarch completed its cycle and could not fly. Oh my, my grandson and I could not bear the sight, so went somewhere else.  Gabrielle and Michael, my son-in-law, were right beside the little thing saying words of encouragement and brought it an Echinacea flower to eat, it was useless. Gabrielle waited by its side until it died. We were all so sad, just remembering brings tears to my eyes, how silly, eh?

Plastic boxes sheltering Monarch caterpillars and chrysalises.

Plastic boxes sheltering Monarch caterpillars and chrysalises.

Albeit, I have to concentrate on the positive. This summer, my first raising Monarchs, I had 50% success. If one considers the survival rate in the wild, I did very well. This means a lot, it is important to do things to keep nature from collapsing around us. However, I have to admit I had a very selfish reason to start this raising butterflies business.

You see, I am also all about legacy and I want a close relationship with my grandchildren while I am here; furthermore, I want them to remember me and to remember the values we shared, the things we did together. My love of plants and nature, in general, was instilled in me by my grandmother. We used to work together for hours in her garden.  Uvelina was her name and I still feel her presence.

My kiddies, as I call them, nurture Monarchs in their own home and in their Port Hope home.  When they are here, we work in the garden and look for Monarchs’ eggs; we clean the boxes of the ones we have; we feed the caterpillars fresh milkweed leaves and we observe the whole process of metamorphosis, from a tiny egg into a gorgeous Monarch. It is wonderful to see how each change brings about a sense of wonder, it is heartwarming to see them look after the critters, and to listen to their very accurate scientific explanations about the butterflies no matter what stage they are at. It is a joy to observe how much they, and their parents, care and to be part of it.

Marissa Consiglieri

Port Hope, Ontario

A Monarch butterfly poised to take its first flight.

A Monarch butterfly poised to take its first flight.


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