Roger Bard wanted something to do with his time and wondered if raising butterflies could be fun.
So far, as of Thursday, he’s released 41 monarch butterflies.
“I could have more than 100 with all the caterpillars I’ve collected.”
Monarch butterflies are the dual toned, orange/black, butterflies, all have the same pattern. He said the males and females look identical but for the males having a small black spot at the bottom of its wing that is its pheromone gland.
“Last summer I got interested. I learned from YouTube videos. Once you find an egg you know what you’re doing,” he said. “It was something to see if I can do.”
It’s not hard work, he said, it’s just time consuming to care for dozens of insects.
“It’s really amazing,” Bard said.
He spends a lot of free time looking through the leaves of the more than 70 milkweed plants growing at his Watseka home to find tiny, tiny white eggs on them. The search begins early in the morning before it gets hot.
He’ll cut the leaf around the egg to make sure the egg stays stable, and it’ll initially give the caterpillar when it’s released a food source.
Bard noted that, instinctively, the caterpillars will go to the bottom of the leaf to feed.
He’ll take these eggs inside to hatch in plastic containers like rotisserie chickens are purchased in. He keeps track of them in a cabinet.
A recently hatched caterpillar is black way smaller than a nat.
This grows into the greenish caterpillar many know.
All the while these creatures are growing, Bard said, they are “eating and pooping”. He said sometimes there is more than one caterpillar on a leaf he’s collected, and he’ll change leaves every eight hours to keep them fresh for them.
When the caterpillar becomes long and plump, 3-4 days, it climbs to the top of a plastic container, that has holes for air, to attach itself as a “J-hook“. At this point in its life, it’s hanging by a silky web its formed to create the chrysalis it’ll continue to grow in. It’ll be in this for 8-11 days.
When it’s time is up, it splits its chrysalis and it’ll hang for about an hour. While it was in the chrysalis the thorax pumped fluid and before it can fly its wings need to dry for a few hours.
Then, Bard releases them back outside.
“It’s not hard work. It’s just a great responsibility. You can’t just leave them,” he said.
He does the cycle of looking at each caterpillar’s growth and food source every day. He said he’ll be stopping in September because he’s won’t be able to spend the time on them as they need. But, the plan is to do it again next year.
Doing this helps the chances of the butterflies’ survival to adult stage.
He said as he understands the chances of a butterfly egg or caterpillar’s survival is 4-9 percent in nature. With his help, so far, he’s had a much, much much higher average, he said.