- Associated Press - Thursday, October 1, 2015

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) - If you’ve noticed butterflies flitting from flower to flower recently, one of them may be a monarch getting ready to begin its migratory journey to Mexico. This year, there may be more monarch butterflies ready to make that trek, due to the efforts of some local women.

Mary Allman began raising monarch butterflies in 2002. She’s kept journals detailing each insect’s life cycle, beginning with a small caterpillar hatching from a milky white egg, through its intensive eating of milkweed leaves as a bright yellow, white and black caterpillar, to its forming a chrysalis and its eventual emergence as an adult butterfly.

Allman collects the monarch eggs from milkweed leaves at her farm outside of Bloomington. “This is the latest season I’ve had,” she said, adding that she collected 27 eggs on Sept. 11. “I’ve never had eggs in September before.”

Allman is now sharing the effort of raising monarch butterflies with friends, co-workers and others. Last year, she and some of the others began tagging the butterflies before releasing them. All of the people now raising the butterflies find the eggs on milkweed growing in gardens around their homes, places of work and parks.

“They’re all over,” said Rebekah Fiedler, who has raised scores of butterflies for the past three years. Some of those have been plucked from five milkweed plants near her work. “We’ve probably had over 100 eggs,” she said.

Several of the women work at City of Bloomington Utilities, but all of their butterfly efforts are done on their own time and at their own expense. They have planted milkweed and are trying to educate others about not mowing areas with milkweed during the times when monarch butterfly eggs or caterpillars may be using them. The women - Allman, Fiedler, Tonia Lucas and Kriste Lindberg - are joined by 10 others at the utilities department, as well as teachers and classes at Binford-Rogers elementary schools and Bloomington High School North. The group has given more than 40 eggs and caterpillars to teachers so they can raise them, tag them and watch them fly away. Jean Schick, science coordinator for Monroe County Community School Corp., has told the group that next year, she would “like to tie in a stronger connection with the monarch journey and some data analysis.”

“What I think is cool about this project is how it brings so many groups together,” Lindberg said.

The women don’t let just anyone raise the caterpillars, though. In order to successfully raise a monarch butterfly, the eggs must be placed on a milkweed leaf. Once the caterpillar emerges, it needs to be placed in a container and given fresh milkweed leaves each day. It also needs a source of water, often a moist towel in the container, which must be cleaned each day.

After 10-14 days, the caterpillar forms a chrysalis. An adult butterfly will emerge after nine to 14 days. The butterfly’s wings take four to five hours to dry, and it should be released within the first day if at all possible. Once the wings have dried and before the monarch is released, a small tag with a special adhesive on the back is attached to a wing. The tag helps people who may find the butterfly learn where the butterfly began its journey and where it was seen along its migration.

“It takes two hours to feed,” Allman said, adding that each new leaf placed in a container needs to be cleaned off, with just a small amount of moisture left on it.

Lucas also measures her caterpillars each day, to monitor their growth. She has been sharing her caterpillars with Pack 196 at Lakeview Elementary, her son Andrew’s Cub Scout troop.

“The bigger the caterpillar, the bigger the chrysalis, the bigger the butterfly,” Fiedler said. “If it’s colder, it takes longer” for the butterflies to emerge, she said.

Fiedler and some of the others have talked with the Bloomington Environmental Commission, as well as officials with the city and local schools, to ask that areas with native plants not be mowed while monarchs may be present. As a consequence, some grassy areas in the city have been left alone because there are milkweed plants growing there.

“Only 1 percent of the monarchs out in the field survive,” Allman said. That’s mainly due to insecticides and predator wasps and flies. “That’s why you want to collect the eggs and raise them,” she said.

Besides helping an insect species that has had steep declines in its population in the past few years, Allman said it’s also good for people. She surprised a friend who had recently lost her husband with a basket that had four monarch butterflies ready to be released. The two cried as they watched the monarchs fly away.

“It’s healing. It’s therapeutic,” Lindberg said.

“It’s a ripple effect,” said Allman, adding that she and the others hope to have more people helping to raise monarchs and planting milkweed and nectar-producing plants in years to come.

And in terms of environmental issues, “I think this is as important for this generation as acid rain was for the last,” Fiedler said.

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Source: The (Bloomington) Herald-Times, http://bit.ly/1QLprxP

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Information from: The Herald Times, http://www.heraldtimesonline.com

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