Monarchs are arguably the most well-known and best loved butterfly in the world.
A while back, I took a two-day monarch butterfly teaching intensive in Pacific Grove, California, the coastal town famous for its spectacular annual influx of overwintering monarchs. We learned about basic insect anatomy and the four stages of butterfly metamorphosisâ€”egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, and adult. We learned how monarch caterpillars thrive on milkweed, a plant thatâ€™s very toxic to most animals but makes Monarchs unpalatable to their enemies.
They are also big butterflies and slow fliers, an easy target for predators, so their coloring of a vivid orange with striking black stripes and white dots are the most effective warning to say â€śWatch Out!â€ť
Most Children are instinctively and irresistibly drawn to butterflies and want to touch and hold them. The teaching program used this innate fascination for these colorful insects as the ideal teaching aid. We learned how to raise monarchs and how to feed them by hand. A special class was given on how to photograph monarchs with kids by gently coaxing the nectar-loving insects with Q-tips and a solution of honey and water that mimicked flower nectar.
Back home at the Mermaid, I got to use my new-found butterfly wrangling skills during a photo shoot for a childrenâ€™s clothing catalog shot by Malibu-based photographer, Laura Doss-Hertz. The impossibly adorable model lit up when I brought the monarch onto the set, born on site the day before in our butterfly rearing area.
I prepped the monarch by holding it so its feet could touch a blob of the sweet liquid on a dish. Butterflies taste through their feet and this usually gets their proboscis (aka feeding tube) probing and drinking the synthetic nectar. I then guided it to our model where the thirsty butterfly continued feeding on her hand or cheek or wherever. Butterfly wrangling is an art more than a science and the photo shoot worked out pretty well except the little girl wanted to take the butterfly with her and was upset when we told her we had to release it outside.
The Mountain Mermaid is a Certified Monarch Waystation with Monarch Watch and sells poison-free native butterfly plants.