The royal treatment: the couple give the monarch butterfly a fighting chance

O’HARA, PA – Joanne and Don Lightner are dedicated to saving the reign of the endangered monarch butterfly. The O’Hara couple are actually raising them to help maintain their numbers in North America.

“We are only 10% of what the population used to be in the world,” Ms. Lightner said.

Monarch butterflies face a multitude of new and old dangers.

“Pesticides, GMOs, habitat destruction, other insects, birds and climate change all have an effect on butterflies,” Ms. Lightner said. “The wildfires on the west coast have had an impact on this migration route. “

Mr Lightner is a retired architect who now spends his summer days hunting butterfly eggs with a magnifying glass

“I go out and find eggs or very small caterpillars and bring them to protect them,” he said.

The reason for these extreme measures is that in nature there is only about a 5% chance that they will go from egg to full butterfly.

The couple feed them until they turn into a chrysalis, then protect them until they emerge like butterflies.

“This year I took out about 18,” Mr. Lightner said. “We then release them in our gardens. “

“Last year we released 38 butterflies. We have a success rate of over 90%, ”noted Ms. Lightner.

Their garden showcases much of what the monarch thrives on, including common milkweed and swamp milkweed. There are also lots of native lilies and wildflowers.

Two years ago, a friend from eastern Pennsylvania got the couple interested in this rescue mission.

“I said, ‘We have butterflies,’ and she encouraged us to start,” he recalls.

Monarch caterpillars feast on milkweed leaves in a cloudy tent. Monarch caterpillars feast on milkweed leaves in the Lightner’s cloud tent.

“It’s the only thing the larvae eat, and it’s the only plant they lay their eggs on,” Ms. Lightner said.

The couple lined their path with plants and added them to their impressive garden. An added benefit of milkweed is that it gives monarch caterpillars a bitter taste, she said. “If a bird eats a caterpillar, it vomits. They only do it once.

The Lightners do a lot more for butterflies than just plant milkweed. He brings monarch eggs inside and places them on a leaf in a mesh tent. Their nursery, also known as the Cloud Tent, contains water-filled beer bottles that contain cuttings from milkweed plants.

“We wash the leaves when we bring them to feed the caterpillars because there may be a virus on the leaves,” Ms. Lightner noted. “You have to get them before they get parasitized. “

In the wild, only three of 100 monarch eggs turn into butterflies because a fly lays its eggs on the larvae, and parasitic maggots kill many young caterpillars. “That’s why we bring them in and protect them,” she added.

Once safely inside the tent, most of the eggs hatch into caterpillars which eventually emerge from the chrysalis pods as butterflies. Many schoolchildren are familiar with this amazing process. The chrysalis changes from green to dark green to light. When the butterfly is ready to emerge – in 10 days to two weeks – the pupa becomes very clear and you can see the butterfly inside.

On the Lightners’ kitchen table are two empty 10 gallon aquariums where recently appeared butterflies cling to the clear capsules, wither and gain strength. It can take six generations for the monarchs to travel from the Mexican hills of Michoacan to the northeastern United States.

“They cross the Gulf of Mexico to Texas, where they mate, lay eggs and die,” she said. “Then this brood will fly a little further north, and it will do so at least four times.” It takes two generations to return to Mexico.

The monarchs winter in the Sanctuary of El Rosario in Michoacan, where they are protected by men armed with machetes. Guides take small groups on horseback to see sleeping butterflies and insist on silence as you pass through a forest of trees covered in millions of butterflies. It is part of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Saving the monarch is important for our ecosystem because, like bees, they are pollinators. They are also a source of food for other insects and animals.

“You never really know when you take something out of the ecosystem what effect it’s having, and you weaken the whole system,” Ms. Lightner said. “So when you protect monarchs, you save an entire ecosystem. “

About Lucille Thompson

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