Finding monarchs is like a little scavenger hunt out at the park. You may know how to spot the different types of milkweed scattered throughout the prairies, but you’ve still got to look closely at the undersides of leaves to find the distinctive white, yellow and black striped caterpillar. Monarchs don’t like to lay their eggs right next to each other. Not only do they exhibit fierce sibling rivalry, but also a big group of juicy caterpillars is hard to pass up for a hungry predator. While their diet of milkweed leaves them unpalatable and even a bit poisonous to most animals, there are still some birds and insects that will happily eat them.
So it was surprising to find a patch of milkweed in the Pollinators' Garden next to PNC Achievement Center absolutely stuffed with monarch caterpillars munching away. We at the PNC Achievement Center checked on them daily, but after only a few days our worst fears were confirmed when we couldn’t find a single caterpillar in the patch of milkweed. It would be unusual for the caterpillars to all decide to pupate at the exact same time but we still searched for chrysalises in hopes that some of them made it. We did find one lone green chrysalis with gold embellishment that told us a monarch was undergoing metamorphosis for their next stage in life. It takes about 10-14 days for a monarch to pupate and emerge a butterfly. Not knowing when this monarch started her process, we just checked in on her daily. This diligence paid off when one morning the chrysalis had darkened and gone transparent, allowing us to see inside to the monarch butterfly that would soon emerge only a few hours later. Happy that one of our Monarchs made it to adulthood to pollinate our flowers and lay the eggs of the next generation, we watched her fly off.
One of the most fascinating things about monarchs is their migration to and from Mexico. Some of these monarchs will live their whole lives here in the park; even the next generation will live out their life here in the spring, summer, and autumn months. However, come mid fall some of those monarchs are going to travel to Mexico to a place that neither they nor their parent butterflies traveled, joining monarchs from all over central and east North America. Monarchs are currently being considered for protection under the Endangered Species Act as their numbers decline in part due to habitat loss.
There is still plenty of time this year to find some of our monarchs. Most milkweed plants like sun, so a good place to go monarch hunting is along the prairie and edge habitats. When you explore The Parklands, look closely for these creatures and look often.
Erin Kinnetz joined The Parklands as a Summer Science Camp Counselor in the summer of 2017. As the camp season ended, she transitioned to the role of Interpretive Ranger, supporting Outdoor Classroom programs. In February 2018, Erin was promoted to Education Specialist. In this position she is the main teacher for Wednesday Wonders, in-school outreach and field trips. She is also in charge of developing curricula for these programs and making sure they meet current Kentucky science standards, while also encouraging stewardship of natural places. Erin received her undergraduate degree in Scientific Illustration and furthered her education by pursuing a Masters of Science in Biology with a special emphasis on Ecology. Before joining The Parklands, Erin spent a number of years in community mental health care on a crisis stabilization unit, helping kids work through difficult times. She has loved working with children ever since. In her free time, she teaches yoga and experiments with arts and materials.
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