PEC Monarch Preserve
by Ril Giles
I operate a small Monarch Butterfly preservation nursery in Milford, PEC. Common Milkweed began growing spontaneously and aggressively in my side yard in 2018. I never imagined it would take me to where I am today! I rescue Monarch eggs and caterpillars off milkweeds slated to be cut down along our county road verges. The monarch caterpillars, which otherwise would be killed during the mowing, are reared in a netted safety garden of milkweed in my yard. There the caterpillars are given a safe place to become butterflies.
My labour of love and passion for this work started for me during the pandemic lockdowns. I was simply looking for a hobby to get me outside in the sunshine to lower the stress of the global pandemic and the online commentary of it.
Monarch egg (Photo: Ril Giles)
Monarch 1st Instar (Photo: Ril Giles)
As I raised a few caterpillars that first year, I learned about the natural struggles the monarch must go through to reproduce and maintain their population. It became more and more important to me to help. Then, last year when the monarch was listed as a threatened species, I found my life’s mission. Monarchs work hard to maintain their population, even in ideal conditions. If you assume there is enough habitat for them and they have no pesticides to contend with, the female monarch will be lucky to produce just two butterflies out of the 400-plus eggs she lays in her life!
In the wild, only about 10 percent of monarch eggs will reach the caterpillar stage. Ants like to eat monarch eggs. Certain types of parasitic wasps will lay their eggs inside the monarch eggs. When the monarch eggs hatch into caterpillars, the wasp eggs also hatch and those larvae begin to feed on the caterpillars from the inside. The monarch caterpillars are killed when the parasitic larvae burrow out to form pupae.
Monarch 2nd Instar (Photo: Ril Giles)
On average, about 40 eggs survive to hatch. The young caterpillars must live long enough to eat their way to adulthood on the milkweed, transform into a chrysalis and metamorphose into a butterfly. But, only 5 percent will, because monarch caterpillars’ biggest predators in the wild are hungry birds.
Monarch 5th Instar (Photo: Ril Giles)
Now of course ants, wasps, and birds need to do what they do. But we humans hinder Monarchs so much, for example, by maintaining two-acre grass lawns with no habitat for them and farming with pesticides along their migration route to Mexico. Therefore, it is no wonder they are now threatened!
This is why untouched natural habitat like the South Shore is so vital! When I asked myself what I could do to help as just one person, I decided giving PEC verge caterpillars a good chance of survival was the best impact I could have. I am excited to be growing my Nursery to support more rescued Monarchs each year.
This year, I took on the volunteer role of being The Butterfly Way Ranger of PEC to encourage the building of habitat for butterflies and other pollinators. This is a very effective and easy way to have a positive impact on helping them. It is something everyone can easily participate in.
“The Butterfly Way” is a project through the Suzuki Foundation with over 1100 volunteer Rangers working in their respective communities coast to coast, to increase pollinator habitats, and build a “flower highway” for butterflies and bees across Canada. We are committed to bringing awareness, advocating for, and building habitats for our pollinators within our communities. If you are interested in seeing more of what I am doing with the Monarch Nursery, to find out how you can help, or to inquire about your pollinator garden being designated a butterfly way garden, you can follow my work at:
Monarch chrysalis (Photo: Ril Giles)
Monarch adult female (Photo: Ril Giles)
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