By Lindsey Gapen Lukas // Photography by Samantha Behling
For four years, Northwest Quarterly’s graphic designer, Samantha Behling, has been raising monarch butterflies. She got into the hobby after her friends Brian and Kristen Gosselin gave her some caterpillars to raise.
“They have a certified monarch waystation,” Behling explains. “It’s a bunch of milkweed plants that provide food and shelter for monarchs as they migrate through North America. They have a very low chance of surviving from egg to butterfly in the wild.”
Kristen Gosselin is fond of getting people involved in saving monarch butterflies. The process begins with showing people the different types of local milkweed, and teaching them that even though some can be an invasive weed, it’s the only thing a monarch caterpillar can eat. Next, she shows people what a monarch egg looks like.
“Once the egg hatches, many tiny caterpillars disappear completely,” Gosselin says. “I’ve seen them be carried away by ants, or just fall off of the plant and not be able to get back. There are also many parasitic insects that will infect caterpillars, so the sooner you move them to a safe area, the more likely you’ll be able to raise healthy caterpillars that become strong and healthy butterflies.”
Disposable Tupperware-type containers are a safe place to keep monarch eggs and small caterpillars.
“Just poke a few holes on top and replace the milkweed leaves daily, or at least every other day,” Gosselin says. “The leaves need to just be pesticide-free and clear of bugs, and rinsed off with only water.”
As the caterpillars grow, they need to be relocated to mason jars – one caterpillar per jar – or a tank with milkweed cuttings in floral tubes. Eventually, the caterpillars mature and become a chrysalis for 10-15 days.
When a butterfly is ready to come out, it emerges quickly.
“You first notice that the clear chrysalis cracks slightly at the bottom, and then a few minutes later, the scrunched-up abdomen falls out, and the butterfly will grab the top of the chrysalis with its feet so it doesn’t fall,” Gosselin says. “Then, the tiny, shriveled wings come out with the rest of the body. The butterfly will settle and hang on while it spends the next 15 to 30 minutes expanding its wings. They need a few hours to fully dry off and then they’ll be ready to fly. During this whole process, they are at the mercy of Mother Nature, so we keep them inside the terrarium or a butterfly cage in the house until they are ready to fly off. You know it’s time when they start to flutter and begin to try to fly in the cage.”
“It’s a very cool process to watch,” Behling adds. After the process is complete, she likes to photograph the butterflies with her beloved Goldendoodle pup named Gryffindor, who’s pictured throughout this feature.