On The Wild Side: Raising of monarch and black swallowtail butterflies an amazing experience

A black swallowtail butterfly photographed by Ann Brokelman. Inset photo shows the butterfly's chrysalis.


This summer I became a crazy butterfly lady. After having knee surgery in July, and almost immediately getting cabin fever because of my limited walking, I decided to try raising monarch and black swallowtail butterflies.

What started as, what I thought would be, a quick learning curve for a small scale science project soon turned into a full-time research adventure that took over my office.

Before I knew it, my office had five butterfly tents, my internet browser history was nothing but websites on how to raise butterflies, and I even had a chrysalis on my wall from one of the caterpillars that escaped its enclosure!

You must imagine me going into the parks to look for eggs and caterpillars in the first place. Then picture me spending hours with my cell phone inside a small enclosure trying not to move to video tape a caterpillar turning themselves into a chrysalis.

Then the long wait for them to emerge, plus the trip to a different area to find milk weed and wild parsley for the emerging butterflies to eat.

My grandchildren, Lara and Cara, helped me pick some and, at the same time, both girls found more caterpillars for the second round of breeding. On that same day I took the girls to Rosetta McClain Gardens in Scarborough where they were able to watch monarchs being tagged and then both girls got to release them. Thank you to Betty for giving them such an amazing experience

I think one of my other most memorable moments of the summer was the emergence of my first black swallowtail butterfly.

I had started my day checking the enclosure but finding nothing.  Later, I had gone back to get something in my office and did a double take because something black had appeared in the tent.

I quickly got my cell phone and took some pics. (I should point out that I kept using my cell phone as all my normal cameras weren’t designed for taking such close-up photos).  The black object was a gorgeous, newly formed male butterfly.

Unlike the monarchs, who emerge from the bottom end of chrysalis, a black swallowtail emerges from the top.  I was excited, but nervous, as this was a first swallowtail for me.  How long should I keep it inside? What if it is raining, can I/should I still release it? Does it need flowers if it’s raining? Help!

Luckily there is, what seems like, limitless information and answers available online. My friend Vickie and I ended up going to a local flower garden to release the black swallowtail.  Vickie released it, but he wanted to climb her arm not go onto the nearby flowers!

Of course, he did  go eventually, and my last sight before we left was the male swallowtail sitting, I’ll say happily, in a butterfly bush.

The making of a butterfly is an incredible journey.  I watched the struggle each caterpillar goes through to form a chrysalis. Even if you don’t want to try to raise a few of your own, we all have the ability to help butterfly communities thrive in our city.

You can buy plants, such as milkweed, to help endangered monarchs. Join your local butterfly group and share the adventures with your children, grandchildren, friends, and partners. Next year I can’t wait to see how many I will be able to raise.

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