By: Amy Cavalier, Communications/Development Coordinator
One month after a butterfly habitat was installed at DePaul’s Neighborhood of the Arts (NOTA) Apartments, the newest residents arrived to check out their new home. Seneca Park Zoo Society Outreach Coordinator Tim Fowler arrived on July 22nd with five monarch butterflies to be released. Before they could take to the wind, though, NOTA residents learned how the insect evolved from an egg into a beautiful winged creature.
A butterfly’s life begins as an egg no bigger than the size of a pin. After about five days, a caterpillar emerges to feed on milkweed, growing from about the size of a grain of rice to the size of a pinky finger. After two weeks, the caterpillar enters into a chrysalis where it develops into an adult monarch butterfly.
Over the winter, butterflies will either hibernate as a caterpillar or adult butterfly or they can migrate to Mexico, where they gather in large numbers, coating the trees in the mountainous forests of Mexico. Around Valentine’s Day, the butterflies begin their pilgrimage back to North America, stopping in Texas to lay eggs. That generation of butterflies perishes, leaving their offspring to finish off their journey back.
In Mexico, Fowler said, there are signs that the monarch butterfly population is in trouble. In 1996, butterflies in Mexico took up about 45 acres of land, or three times the size of the Seneca Park Zoo. This past year, the butterflies took up just over one acre of land, or one-fifth the size of the zoo.
The easiest way to increase the butterfly population is to create a backyard butterfly habitat similar to the one installed at NOTA through the Daisy Marquis Jones Butterfly Beltway Program about a month ago, according to Fowler. The NOTA butterfly habitat is one of 160 sites in Monroe County, 20 of which have been added this year.
“The butterflies we release today will stay in this general area, reproduce and it’s likely that their children will be the generation which heads to Mexico this winter,” Fowler said as he placed the delicate insects onto the back of residents’ hands before they caught the wind in their wings and headed off on the next leg of their journey.