How does one become a butterfly? You have to want to learn to fly so much that you are willing to give up being a caterpillar. -Unknown
Have you heard of Monarch Waystations? I didn’t until three years ago. My daughters, like most little kids, were fascinated by butterflies. Honestly, I love watching them too. We’ve previously made the effort of adding attracting butterfly plants into our gardens just so we can enjoy them flutter around in the evening. Then we would sit outside to enjoy them. But this waystation project was different.
I had already decided to homeschool and the idea of creating a butterfly garden that the girls would enjoy and use as a learning tool excited me. So, I did what I do best, read and researched. After learning about the types of plants I needed, and the space designated for it. I made my budget and went to work. And work we did. I even registered our garden on the Monarch Waystation Program. I became totally vested. This project was more physical work than I anticipated. A lot of planting in strategic ways and designing and choosing the proper plants for the zone…Maybe it was just me but it was time-consuming for sure. Once we were done (and I say we because my dear husband was dragged to work on this project), we just had to maintain it and wait. And wait we did.
It wasn’t until a year and a half after that we started seeing some butterflies arrive. It was so pretty to see them flutter around as they landed on the flowers to get nectar. The girls were so happy. It was worth it but no monarchs. So I thought that was that. No other neighbor had the particular plants’ monarch caterpillars need (Milkweeds) in order to thrive so I figured they wouldn’t find it. Until we finally saw them. A few monarchs came around! Time to observe and create a lesson plan for the girls.
We’ve been taught the cycle of a butterfly and how monarch’s travel, and blah blah blah so I thought I knew it all. I told the girls that we should observe the four stages of the monarch butterfly life cycle. The egg, the larvae (caterpillar), the pupa (chrysalis), and the adult butterfly. The four generations are actually four different butterflies going through these four stages for one year until it is time to start over again with stage one and generation one. We’ll just watch each stage of the cycle and that’s it. This experience, however, became much more than that for us all. Most focus on the actual butterfly, during that moment when it transforms from the pupa to a butterfly opening its wings and all. Which don’t get me wrong is amazing to watch but it was the larvae stage that taught us the most.
As we watch these little worms’ chump away on our plants one after the other, we realized that they outnumbered the plants. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never stopped to think about that. Some would never make it because there was not enough food. Some were burnt by the extreme and unusually hot weather conditions that we’ve been recently suffering. However, these little fellows are poisonous to predators that would try to eat them. What an amazing survival mechanism for such a small creature! After we watched them for days, we started seeing the butterflies in the mornings slowly warming their wings with the early sun as they started to fly for their first time. We missed the chrysalis stage! We looked around the milkweed plants and couldn’t find them. As I researched this, I read that they will walk to nearby trees and such. I always assumed that they would stay in their milkweeds where it was “safe” for then.
One evening my husband walks out in the backyard and made a discovery. There they were. Tens (and I mean we counted at least 50!) of caterpillars. Some were already in the hook position to start their metamorphosis into what would become a beautiful butterfly. The thing is where they were. They had crossed our yard. They crawled onto the fence, onto the edge of our roof, onto the neighbor’s back porch ceiling!! They were everywhere. Gladly the neighbors were as impressed and excited as we were. But they were feet away from the garden. The had to go through so much just to move on to their next stage. By instinct!
And this was my biggest lesson. There might be a stage in our lives when we will stay in a safe place. We might think that what we are doing has no purpose. Just doing our thing. Ingest all the nutrients needed to stay healthy and strong. Prepare to grow. Let us listen to that instinctive voice inside us and follow it no matter how long it will take us until we find our place where we will wait until the moment arrives when we will soar and show our beauty and strength. Just like a monarch. Without forgetting our beginnings but moving forward towards our destiny.
If you are interested in to growing your own Monarch waystation visit monarchwatch.org and learn how you can help this amazing species to survive and sustain their migration.