What started with one monarch caterpillar named “Bear” and a repurposed flower vase turned into a nature-loving, science-class inspiring, eco-friendly operation of hatching monarch caterpillars into monarch butterflies and letting them go into the nature that we love.
We called it summer science class. And it all started by accident when a group of nature loving kids who visit us every June found a caterpillar, named him “Bear” and asked us to take good care of him on Saturday morning when they had to leave. We, of course, promised to see Bear into his next stage of life in their absence and post updates on Instagram (#Bearthecaterpillar).
Now it’s worth noting that Mary Jane (beloved matriarch of the Brookside family) has been performing this dutiful nature task for several summers. Her love of gardening and flowers naturally led her to pay close attention to things like butterflies and bees and she started planting milkweed in her garden. And we can speak from experiences on this one now, once you start looking for monarch caterpillars on milkweed plants – you can’t stop!
So, this is how our monarch nursery began. One caterpillar named Bear.
Caring for Bear led us to discover a few things: first, monarch caterpillars eat a LOT of milkweed. And, as a result, they poop almost constantly. (Tip for home: don’t start your caterpillar nursery in the kitchen….)
Second, nearly every time you bring in a fresh supply of milkweed, you also bring in more caterpillars or caterpillar eggs. So, by the time Bear hatched – our caterpillar habitat was already home to several new residents. And, as you can imagine, this continued to happen for the next several months turning our 1 caterpillar operation into a “several dozen” caterpillar operation.
Third, this was so much fun and we learned a lot about caterpillars. And, in turn, YOU guys learned a lot about caterpillars when you saw us wandering around the shoreline looking for fresh milkweed or checking pupae for hatching or waiting for butterfly wings to dry.
We have read The Hungry Caterpillar dozens of times, so our brains knew that caterpillars form cocoons and transform into butterflies. But to see this transformation in person was truly amazing. And it was SO worth cleaning up caterpillar poop and finding milkweed!
In our journey toward monarch caterpillar farm status, we realized a few things:
1. We have been walking past milkweed and stepping over monarch caterpillars forever! (You probably have, too!)
2. The number of monarch butterflies has steadily been declining since the 1990’s – due in large part to climate change and habitat loss (National Wildlife Federation).
3. Once we started doing this, we noticed monarch butterflies everywhere!
4. Parts of this process were SO cool: like how small the caterpillars start out and how quickly they grow (remember that constant eating…..), how they make their way to the top of the net and hang for several days like a “J” (and appear to be dead) and then in a matter of 1 minute form a cocoon (if you are lucky enough to watch this stage – prepare to be amazed!), the colors of the cocoon (green with glistening gold that doesn’t even look real!), the process of drying their wings once they hatch, and finally that you can even tell a boy monarch from a girl monarch by the patterns of dots on their wings (The little guy below is a BOY)!
It’s safe to say, we are hooked on butterfly hatching. So we are going to keep doing it. And maybe even see if we can hatch a few Swallowtails next year.
If you’re feeling curious about monarch butterfly hatching we think you have a few good options: you can live vicariously through our Instagram account (@brooksideresort #monarchhatchingatbrookside) or start you own monarch nursery. Just be sure you have a large and accessible supply of milkweed and time to keep an eye on your caterpillar habitat every day (think: less work than a hamster but more work than a lizard). OR: you can just visit our monarch nursery on your next trip to Brookside.
Joanna is in Year 2 of blogging – but not in Year 2 of resorting! After a childhood of playing at Brookside, she has now been part of owning it for almost 8 years! However, she still considers herself a trainee in the Butterfly nursery…..