NEW RICHMOND -- Katie Tate collected and raised monarchs -- from caterpillars to butterflies -- when growin gup. Now Tate has passed on her interest to her three children.
“This is something I did when I was a kid, just on a much smaller scale. With my kids, we would try to find three or four monarch caterpillars every year. That is what we did for a couple of years, then this year, it kind of got out of control,” Katie said.
The Tate children — Lucy, 5, Annie, 8, and Dean, 9 — believe they will be able to release nearly 300 butterflies into the New Richmond community.
“So far this year, we had about 109 chrysalis and released about 160 butterflies. It was pretty cool,” Dean said. “Last year, we started finding eggs. We found about 15 eggs and we thought we’d never have more than that. We released about 60 butterflies, which we thought was a lot and that we were never going to release more than that.”
Tate feels the major difference between last year and this year is that the children learned how to find caterpillar eggs.
“I think the kids think of finding the eggs and caterpillars almost as if it were a scavenger hunt, which makes it exciting for them. Then releasing the butterflies is just an amazing thing to see,” Katie said. “We read a statistic that only 2% of eggs laid actually make it to become a butterfly. I think that inspired the kids to save as many eggs as they could.”
The Tate family places the egg in a case where they can grow safely without being eaten by other animals. When a black dot appears on the tannish-yellow colored eggs, the caterpillars are almost ready to hatch, according to Annie.
“It isn’t very hard to find the eggs. We look for the eggs around the pond and in our backyard,” Lucy said.
Once the caterpillars hatch, the Tate kids feed it milkweed three times a week. When a caterpillar is ready, it will spin a cocoon and hang in its chrysalis for about two weeks before shedding its skin and emerging as a butterfly, Annie said.
When the butterflies have shed their chrysalis, the children take them outdoors to release them into the wild.
“We have a butterfly net which we use to take out the butterflies when they are ready to be released. Sometimes they fly right away and sometimes they stay on your finger for a while. During the summer, we like to set the ones that aren’t ready to fly on the flowers on our deck so they can take their time to fly away,” Annie said.
Sometimes, the butterflies will stay on the Tates' deck for several days before flying away, Dean said. According to the kids, the butterflies like to climb to the top of the umbrella on the family’s deck furniture.
Katie said the family recently learned that different generations of butterflies lay eggs during the summer, which is why the family has been able to find eggs and caterpillars all throughout the summer.
“We usually find the eggs and caterpillars in the beginning of August, but this year we started finding them at the beginning of June,” Dean said.
The family only works with and collects monarch butterflies and caterpillars, although they see several other species during their hunt for eggs and caterpillars.
“I didn’t really know what it was we were doing at the beginning, but once we released our first butterfly, I started to get into it. I started looking for them and then my sisters started looking for them. That’s when we started finding a lot more,” Dean said.
Another thing the Tate children recently learned about monarch butterflies is how to tell their gender.
“You can look at their wings and if there is a black dot on both sides it is a boy. If it doesn’t have that it is a girl,” Annie said. “It feels good to release the butterflies. It feels good to know you are saving these insects and helping them grow.”
Although raising monarch butterflies is a bit of an ordeal, the Tate children aren’t complaining.
“Caterpillars are kind of messy and poop a lot. So it takes a lot of work to raise them to butterflies. But it is rewarding in the end,” Dean said. “I get a really happy feeling when we release the butterflies, especially when an egg makes it all the way to a butterfly.”