I raise Monarch butterflies, and this is my second year of doing so. Monarchs are unique in that, while many species of butterflies migrate, they are the only ones who travel 2,500 miles in their migration. Monarchs also return to the same trees their great-great-grandparents overwintered in the year before. Also interesting: Monarch butterflies live an average of 2-6 weeks unless they are part of the migratory generation, in which case, they live about eight months. They fly 2,500 miles to Mexico (if they were born east of the Rocky Mountains), overwinter there, and return to breed a new generation in the spring.
Monarchs are becoming endangered and a petition was filed in 2014 with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to protect them under the Endangered Species Act. The reason: Monarch larvae eat only milkweed. They can't eat anything else, and since milkweed is, in fact, a weed, it is often destroyed, so they are declining due to loss of habitat. There is also danger in their overwintering sites in Mexico and California (if they were born west of the Rockies) being developed.
They are beautiful creatures, and I have had great fun raising them (I find Monarch eggs in the wild and raise them indoors and release the butterflies after their wings dry). This year, I participated in tagging my migratory Monarchs for scientific purposes. Monarchwatch.org, a site dedicated to the conservation of the Monarch, works with the University of Kansas to tag Monarchs and track their migration every year. You can see what a tagged Monarch looks like and read more about tagging HERE.
I tagged eight this year, three females and five males: Alyssa, Elowyn, James, Ragnarr, Athos, Catherine, Jacques Cousteau, and Aschere, but raised several others of the non-migratory generations.
If you find a tagged Monarch, please report it HERE!
Raising Monarchs is more than just a fun activity for me, though I love having my butterflies hang out on my shoulder for a while before they fly away—and if you’ve never heard the sound of butterfly wings, you’re missing out. To me, butterflies are pure grace, a visible reminder of life, death, and eternity, which is not something upon which many American Christians meditate. But in raising Monarchs, I can't help but be reminded of my eventual future.
Monarch larvae are not particularly attractive at any stage, though they are much cuter when they are small. They are born so tiny you almost need a magnifying glass to see them. Within two weeks, however, they are inches long and ready to transform into a chrysalis. If you haven't seen that transformation, I highly recommend watching a sample on YouTube. Within hours, the caterpillar will transform from a creature with a head and full digestive system (caterpillars poop like rabbits) to a bright green chrysalis that breaks out from beneath its skin. It then turns to a puddle of green goo within the chrysalis to eclose ten days later as a beautiful black and orange butterfly, leaving behind a translucent shell of what it once was.
I've imagined that those poor caterpillars must be terrified. Their bodies are changing—they are changing—in ways over which they have no control, ways that must feel like death, but in the end, they emerge as creatures most profound and beautiful.
Is this not the perfect picture of the Christian life? We live for a time and then die (or appear to), perhaps in ways we cannot control, ways that can seem so terrifying—but after a time, we will rise again most profound and beautiful, and we will find that all that came before will be entirely worth it.
Monarch fact: Monarch butterflies retain the memories and behaviors they formed as caterpillars. For example, a butterfly will be repelled by the same scent that repelled it when it was a caterpillar. It remembers, even though it spent days as nothing but a puddle of green goo.