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Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The "Butterflies By Sue" Story

Sue shows me the plastic "cage" she uses to raise her Monarch butterflies.
It was an ordinary day.  Carol had just returned from dropping off a top at the dry cleaners and gave me the news. "The girl at the dry cleaners is raising butterflies on the counter right inside the door. She has a few containers with everything from eggs to  caterpillars to a monarch butterfly that just came out of it's cocoon today."  
This female Monarch has broken through the
chrysalis earlier in the day.
Well, that all I needed to go have a look myself.  As soon as "The Price Is Right" ended, I gathered my photo stuff, new sets of lenses for my iPhone and my little notebook together and walked the block-and-a-half to the cleaners. Yep, right inside sat a couple of big glass jars and a home-made contraption that held the butterfly and a few caterpillars that were having a great time wandering around the milkweed leaves that Sue, the butterfly grower and dry cleaner clerk, had placed there for them.
A single egg can be seen on the leaf.
I introduced myself and asked her what she was doing and how she got started.  Seems that about ten years ago her mother became ill and her physical therapist suggested she raise butterflies to take her mind off her troubles. So Sue joined her mother and began the journey into raising butterflies as well as planting the necessary milkweed fields to help attract and feed the butterflies.  Sue lost her mother a couple of years ago, but her love of butterflies still lingers, keeping her involved in trying to make sure butterflies don't become extinct in the future.  She spent time with me explaining what I was looking at in the front of the store.  
A Monarch caterpillar.
She had the leaves from the milkweed plant that came from her home in one container and on them were eggs that had recently been left there by mature butterflies.  These eggs will hatch and turn into a caterpillar which will eventually turn into a chrysalis or pupa.  The chrysalis then finishes the life cycle when it opens and releases the butterfly that had been developing in it. The one Monarch butterfly in the make-shift "cage" was feeding on the cotton that Sue had saturated with sugar water.  She had plans to release it in a few hours after she felt it was strong enough to survive on its own.  
The caterpillar turns into this chrysalis. 
She felt it was soon time for the Monarchs to head south to Mexico, a trip that will take a few generations of the butterfly in front of us.  The first generation of butterflies live about a month, laying eggs before they die.  The next generation that is the result of those eggs lives six weeks, following the same procedure.  The third generation lives two months while the fourth and fifth live seven months each, lay eggs once again and the following generation begins its journey north in the spring to start the whole thing over again.  I asked when she expected to release her Monarch, wondering if I could return to take a photo.  About an hour later I was watching as she reached in the "cage" and helped guide the new life into the sky.  Pretty neat talking with Sue and learning more about the insect that I too enjoy watching and taking photos of.  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.

Sue holds the less than a day old Monarch butterfly on her finger before she takes flight.

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