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Searching for Monarchs

Written by Katie Schober
    Wednesday, 23 August 2017
Searching for Monarchs

Are we going to catch a butterfly or dragonfly?” Miranda asked doubtfully as I again missed a green darner high up in the tree branches.

Miranda, a camper in our Nature Explorers group, was fascinated by all things that fly. She was singularly focused on catching butterflies and dragonflies for observation.

During the week we nabbed a cabbage white butterfly or two, but she had her eyes set on the elusive monarch. Miranda, and soon all the campers, had their eyes focused on the flowers during our hikes in Three Bridges Park as we searched for this bright, graceful flier.

The search continued

We overturned leaves from top to bottom on milkweed plants, looking for tiny monarch eggs while learning how to tell the difference between eggs and milkweed resin. The campers also learned about one of nature’s amazing partnerships: monarchs pollinate milkweed and in turn eating milkweed protects monarchs by making them distasteful to predators.

Success!

On Friday, our last day of camp, we had some breakthrough success! While the Nature Explorers were enjoying the lovely summer afternoon climbing trees and skipping rocks on the Menomonee River, Miranda continued her mission, scrutinizing every milkweed plant, until she found a second instar monarch caterpillar. Immediately an immense crew gathered, all eyes were on our little “in-star.”

Most had never seen a monarch caterpillar before, let alone one that tiny. Miranda was surprised that the orange monarch came from a caterpillar that had yellow, black and white stripes.

A new home

As camp wrapped up that afternoon, Miranda helped to gather milkweed to settle our monarch caterpillar, which she named Buttercup, into its new, protected home inside the Menomonee Valley Branch. Waving goodbye to Buttercup, Miranda exclaimed, “When I grow up, I want to be a butterfly scientist so I can help the butterflies!”

She is already getting a head-start on accomplishing her plan. The following week Miranda came back to visit Buttercup, armed with her monarch book and ready to teach me all about the life span of a monarch from egg to butterfly.

The monarchs gained new partners with our new scientist-in-training as well as her friends who took the time to learn about and search for this orange, flying wonder.

Katie Schober

Katie Schober

During Katie’s first experience at the Urban Ecology Center, she stumbled through her own cross-country skiing for beginners class. After bringing high school groups to visit the Center over a few years, she is thrilled to be an Environmental Educator at the Menomonee Valley branch and to be able to work with students of many ages. Outside of exploring the many seasons of the Valley, she enjoys biking around Milwaukee, learning freshwater systems, and salsa dancing.

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