A Hobby for a Cause: Raising and Releasing Butterflies
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the number of monarch butterflies has decreased significantly over the last 20 years. A nationwide effort is underway to help the species through many programs from large-scale partnerships to individuals doing their part at home. According to the USFWS, citizen scientists are providing significant contributions to monarch-focused research and growth.
One such “citizen scientist” is Ellen Daniels, MBA, lecturer in Kent State University’s Department of Marketing and Entrepreneurship.
Between training students for sales competitions, advising Pi Sigma Epsilon, teaching professional selling and much more, it is hard to imagine Ms. Daniels could make time for a hobby outside of work – a hobby that helps to protect a species, no less.
Ms. Daniels says a large reason for the overall decline is destruction of habitat.
“Fertilizers and pesticides are systematically destroying our pollinators, of which butterflies are one set,” Ms. Daniels says. “Loss of habitat due to construction and frequent mowing of meadows and wildlife areas are also huge factors in the overall decline of our beneficial insect population.”
From mid-July through the end of October, Ms. Daniels takes time out of the classroom to raise butterflies, releasing more than 1,200 since 1995.
Ms. Daniels picked up this hobby 22 years ago when her oldest son, Adam, brought milkweed seeds home from school. After planting milkweed in the yard, Ms. Daniels and her sons were lucky enough to attract monarchs and decided to raise them.
“My boys and I enjoyed the experience so much that we continued to raise them together,” Ms. Daniels says. “When they became busy in the summer, I continued by myself.”
Ms. Daniels began a Magical Butterfly camp in 2011 for families to “adopt” monarch caterpillars while learning more about butterflies and how to raise them.
“For many years, I raised them on my own, but I am so fortunate to have several parents and children who joined me to raise and release butterflies,” Ms. Daniels says. “Since 2011, over 50 families have participated in my butterfly camp, and all of them have a new appreciation for these beautiful insects.”
Caterpillars emerge from their eggs after four to six days, followed by 12-14 days of eating before forming and staying within their chrysalis for an additional 10-16 days to emerge into butterflies. Ms. Daniels says the one-month process from egg to butterfly is what makes it a perfect hobby for small children.
“It’s a grassroots campaign that I hope will help us protect these gorgeous insects,” Ms. Daniels says. “By engaging families in the miracle of butterfly metamorphosis, I hope that the families become more sensitive to the plight of these fragile creatures who provide not only beauty, but benefit to us as well.”
If she is lucky, Ms. Daniels says, she finds caterpillars on milkweed plants in her yard. Since monarch numbers have declined over the past few years, this is now rare, so she purchases caterpillars in late June that become butterflies that lay eggs throughout the summer here in Ohio.
Ms. Daniels takes approximately one to three hours every day to clean the cages, find fresh milkweed and make sure the caterpillars are healthy. Other than that, she says, they are relatively easy to care for. She has even gone out of her way to grow her own milkweed in containers so the milkweed is fresh and pesticide-free.
“It is important not to cut milkweed from any place you cannot verify because so many cities and even some homeowners spray pesticides and fertilizers along the roadways,” Ms. Daniels says. “This makes the milkweed lethal to the caterpillars, and has killed thousands of caterpillars over the years, limiting what I can use.”
Ms. Daniels designed a North American Butterfly Association-certified garden in 2015, which was dedicated to her mom. She also built a Monarch Watch-certified monarch habitat and waystation at her house, as well as for the Eastwood Preserve Community Garden in Richfield, Ohio.
To stay updated on Ms. Daniels and her butterflies, visit www.richfieldvillageohio.org/260/Magical-Butterflies or her blog at https://flutterofmonarchs.blogspot.com.