OH WHERE OH WHERE HAVE THE BUTTERFLIES GONE

I am so excited to share this new hobby of mine, this keeps me occupied while I wait for the next episode of Game of Thrones!!  I have this great obsession with photographing butterflies.   In my gardens I have about 12 butterfly bushes and other plants to attract the lovely creatures to my back yard.   I have plants which provide nourishment and  a host plants for their eggs and developing larva.  Tons of milkweed, coneflowers,lantana,rudbeckia and many others.   Usually during the spring and summer months, my plants are filled with butterflies.   For some reason, this year there have been hardly any.  In the early part of the season, if I had 3 butterflies fluttering around, I considered myself very fortunate.  I started to research the shortage of butterflies in my area, West Chester, Pennsylvania.   The only clue I could find suggested the mild winter temperatures we had this year.  The monarch butterflies migrate south.  The swallowtails overwinter in their cocoons in this area.  The article I read was from 2009 which was also a mild winter.  The article suggested that perhaps because of the mild temperatures in January and February, the butterflies were tricked into thinking it was time to emerge from their cocoons only to find no nourishment available to them and they died off.   A mild winter is great for us but not so great for the swallowtail butterflies.

While researching the decline of our divine creatures, I came across many articles about the decline of the monarch butterflies. I started to read up on them and realized their decrease in population was due to the deforestation in Mexico where they migrate, the change in the temperatures and pesticides.  I read up on many programs that are trying to revive the population.  I joined up with a research group at the University of Minnesota to monitor the monarchs in my backyard ( which is not many).

Once I received my kit, I was on the hunt for monarch eggs.  Lo and behold, I actually found some on my milkweed plants.  Unfortunately, sometimes those eggs disappeared and then others appeared.  It was very hard to keep track of the eggs.  I decided to give up trying to count the eggs and waited for them to hatch.  I started collecting the caterpillars as they hatched and raise them in an enclosed netted cage.   To this day I have released 8 healthy monarchs, 7 females and 1 male.  Right now I have 24 cocoons waiting to hatch and about 15 caterpillars feeding on my milkweed cuttings.  It is really interesting to watch them grow and go through the different stages of development.  From egg, to instar 1-5, to pupae and finally emerging as the majestic butterfly.

I feel great about helping nature and the environment by increasing the population of these beautiful creatures.  I also love photographing and documenting their progress.  If you have the chance stop by my butterfly gallery and browse through the new Monarch prints I have posted.

Thanks for reading!

Judy