Author: Donna Pless

Monarchs On the Way to Mexico!

It’s the time of year for Eastern Monarchs to migrate to Mexico! Want to help them on their journey? Plant milkweed in your garden for their long trip South, along with plants high in nectar to help fuel them for the journey. Instead of the typical fall plants like mums, try a variety high in nectar and similar in look – Aster! It’s difficult for Monarchs to find anything blooming at this time, and plants like milkweed and aster are definitely what they need to get to their destination. If you happen to come across a tagged Monarch, write down the number and report it to our Monarch Watch organization. They keep track of the migration and tally numbers over in Mexico. Happy Fall and a smooth winter to you all!

Becoming Part of the Monarch Movement

“The migration of the Monarch butterflies is one of the wonders of the world – we must save it for future generations.” Dr. Jane Goodall

Early on in our creation of Whimsical Wings Farms, we made a commitment to do our part for the movement to save the Monarch butterfly. Their numbers have hovered just above the endangered species mark for several years now. Becoming a part of the movement to save this butterfly means increasing their habitat, which sustains the life cycle.

Milkweed is the only host plant for the Monarch, so having more of that in the world is critical to their survival. Dovetailing with habitat restoration is education. Educating the general population about this movement is already happening across the world. Monarchs are the only species of butterfly that migrates. It has a one-of-a-kind antic-filled life cycle as well. You don’t have to know a lot about this butterfly to fall in love with it.

If only, we said to ourselves, every person in the world became an enthusiast for this butterfly. If only they would make a small commitment to have at least one of their host plants in their garden or in a pot on their deck. If only we could create something to ignite a heart’s passion to push the growing movement for the Monarch to new levels. Our goal is to save the Monarch for future generations to enjoy.

Our life cycle kit shares with others the miracle of watching a tiny caterpillar transform itself in so many ways. You can be part of their journey, seeing the small changes daily and celebrating them. The contents of the kit were carefully chosen to make it easy for our future enthusiasts, by providing all the tools necessary for the caterpillar to become a butterfly.

We want a world that doesn’t have to discuss the plight of the monarch. Just simply enjoy them. And offer the opportunity of watching them fly about to our children and grandchildren one day.

We Made Country Living!

Our butterfly kit was featured in Country Living magazine! The Whimsical Wings kit was one of 8 entries for easy, at-home options for raising butterflies. We were the top-rated kit with Monarchs, and best pick for “plant included” options.

Being a small farm in our first years of development with this kit, the Country Living exposure is a huge win for us. Being in a comparison with some of the largest providers of educational science supplies is truly an honor and lets us know we are doing some things right!

This feature also tells us that we still have a great deal of education to share on the differences between Monarchs and Painted Lady butterflies. The two lifecycles contrast significantly in style. The Monarch is by far the more interesting butterfly to watch. And, as they hover near the endangered species list, it behooves us all to lend a helping hand by having milkweed for them. As their only host plant, having it in our gardens or even in a pot on the deck is crucial to their survival. It is our mission to see every household, school, park and store front to have this precious host plant.

Check your local garden centers for pesticide-free native milkweed options. Milkweed comes in many varieties and colors to coordinate nicely with your existing landscape. The only species we would caution you to shy away from is Common milkweed. This is an invasive option that grows aggressively and is difficult to manage.

Don’t hesitate to reach out to us for specific questions about milkweed and Monarchs. We are always available to talk about our passion!

A decades-old trend in the classroom is to order a Painted Lady butterfly kit to teach students about the life cycle of the butterfly. We want teachers to re-think this lesson. Why not choose a Monarch Butterfly Kit instead?

One reason may be that before the last few years, Monarch life cycle kits were not available for purchase. Now that educational supply companies and small farms across the US are popping up with options for shipping the kits, the game has changed. You can now receive a kit with Monarch eggs or larvae, and a full-grown Milkweed plant along with instructions and other items to successfully raise Monarchs.

Why change something that is working, you say. We’ve visited several US-wide blogs and pages over the past few months, and have found that the painted lady kit is not as successful as one might think. Reports of getting over a dozen larvae with only two making it to emergence is common-place. The ladies come with artificial diet, a sand-colored mixture in a small plastic container. The larvae simply eat this mixture, then form their chrysalis’ inside. They don’t hang themselves, just lay on the bottom or in a messy web they weave until they hatch. Painted ladies are beautiful, but small, muted in color, and their life cycle is just not interesting.

Interesting is watching Monarch caterpillars, bright yellow and black striped creatures, munching on a live Milkweed plant. They eat a tremendous amount – 9,000 times their body weight during the larval stage! They change their skin (called the molt) five times to accommodate the growth.

To see the milkweed plant skinned to the stems after housing these voracious eaters is pure entertainment. Then they go into a “j” shape and turn into a vivid jade colored chrysalis, as beautiful as a piece of jewelry. It even has a regal golden band around it. The emergence can be seen, as the chrysalis is adhered to the top of the netted enclosure. No opening a cup lid to see the progress.

Besides their interesting life cycle, other lessons can dovetail with the life cycle curriculum. Teaching the students about milkweed and why we need it in everyone’s garden or on everyone’s porch. You see, the Monarch has hovered just above being labeled an endangered species for years. One of the main causes of this is habitat (milkweed) depletion. A Monarch is also the only migrating butterfly. The ones born in the Fall migrate to Mexico (east coast stock) or California (west coast stock). Tagging them to see if they made it is a fun activity to do with the class. Toxins are another topic that comes along with the Monarch. They eat the toxic milkweed plant and make themselves “unpalatable” to predators. Ants, wasps, praying mantis, birds and lizards recognize toxic prey by their vivid coloring. This makes the Monarch a little safer than other species with less coloring and non-toxic host plants.

Finally, the lessons learned from this butterfly will go with the students, making them more likely to become Monarch enthusiasts and hopefully having some of the host plant at home. That’s our goal. For every household to have these very important plants for generations of Monarchs.

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