Ryan Trares: Hope on the wings of a butterfly

A flurry of orange and black fluttered inside the plastic container.

Peering inside, a freshly hatched monarch butterfly stretched its wings.

Anthony dashed over, excited to see. He has been watching over the monarch chrysalis for days as it hung suspended in an old carryout food container. Now, the life cycle had come full circle.

Monarch butterflies, and their increasingly imperiled existence, have become a pet project, if my mom’s. A former kindergarten teacher, she has taken it upon herself to support these regal insects as much as possible.

She planted milkweed — the monarchs’ main food source as caterpillars — in her garden. Keeping a watchful eye for eggs, she carefully transplants those into an aquarium, where the unhatched eggs can remain undisturbed. Once the caterpillars emerge from the eggs, mom makes sure to rotate fresh milkweed in and clean out their container.

Such care is certainly needed.

Over the past three decades, populations of eastern migratory monarch butterflies have fallen by more than 80%, according to the World Wildlife Foundation. This summer, the butterflies were classified as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

One of the main drivers for its struggles has been destruction of the milkweed needed for butterflies to survive. Herbicides and habitat destruction have left the insects without the food and shelter they need to live.

That’s a problem for us all.

So my mom has tried to help where she can. And she’s made sure Anthony knows how important monarch butterflies are to our world.

This year has seen some success from her efforts. She has been able to free a number of monarchs into her garden; at that point, their survival is in nature’s hands.

During a recent trip back to Ohio, she had a few chrysalises that had formed. Knowing how much Anthony loves both bugs and nature, she gifted him one attached carefully in a plastic container.

Anthony made sure it was packed tightly into the car, set in the back seat where he could watch it during our drive home. He picked out a place on our front porch where the container would be protected from wind and sun, as well as from possible predators.

And we waited.

Every day, Anthony would poke his head out to see the developments. We’d hold up the container and look closely at the green chrysalis, examining it for signs that emergence is coming.

Then, without even paying attention, the butterfly had hatched.

I found it when I was watering the front plants after dropping Anthony off for school. I waited until he got home, then asked him to check on the chrysalis.

“It’s a butterfly!” he shouted, wide-eyed and with a smile.

We took the container carefully to the backyard, where our flowering butterfly bush offered both protection and food for the hatchling. Anthony upended the container slowly, letting the monarch slide onto the bush. Still exercising its wings, the insect steadied itself, then looked toward the pollen-filled blooms all around it.

Convinced the butterfly was safe, we went back inside. When we checked later, the monarch was gone — hopefully safely traveling from flower to flower to build its strength.

It’s just one butterfly, which in the grand scheme of things doesn’t help the monarchs’ situation much. But Anthony was felt like he had helped, if only a little bit, make the world a more wonderful place. And I agree.

Ryan Trares is a senior reporter and columnist for the Daily Journal in Franklin. Send comments to [email protected]

Ryan Trares is a senior reporter and columnist for the Daily Journal in Franklin. Send comments to [email protected]