Monarchs Without Borders: Behind the scenes

Danaus plexippus
Monarchs Without Borders: Behind the scenes

Are you one of the many who’ve been filled with wonder at the transformation of the monarch butterfly? Observing the feeding activities of the caterpillars, seeing the mysterious chrysalis take shape, saying farewell as the butterflies take off for Mexico – what wonderful moments these are. It so happens that an enthusiastic team devotes itself all year long to making it possible for budding breeders to enjoy these unforgettable experiences.

A complete kit

For 20 years the Insectarium has been offering citizens and students a chance to delight in the experience of raising the king of the butterflies. About 11,000 kits containing over 56,000 monarchs have been distributed so far. Each kit* consists of monarch caterpillars and chrysalides, a milkweed plant, Monarch Watch stickers, and access to an information and support blog.

Monarch production

Raising butterflies in large quantities calls for specialized expertise and an investment of much time and energy. Since the start of the program, the Insectarium has been associated with a Québec breeder to define and achieve high standards in hygiene and breeding, in managing genetic pools, in insect living conditions and in respect for the environment.

To avoid inbreeding and to control contamination risks, breeding begins each spring with a few adults from the natural population, freshly arrived from their breeding area.

Several tests are carried out to determine the monarchs’ health, the testing facilities being reserved for authorized personnel.

Milkweed, lots of milkweed!

The Insectarium horticulturist has to plan for feeding the monarchs months in advance. Imagine producing more than 1,000 seedlings to feed all those voracious mandibles! You also have to deal with temperature, rainfall, available space and staff, and see to it that the young plants make for a plentiful enough pantry to go into the breeding cage. Lorraine Bluteau is an expert, and every year there’s plenty of milkweed to go around, as lush as you could possibly want.
And everyone else who’s involved…

From January to the end of May the kits are on sale through the Insectarium website. Staff from the Friends of the Insectarium deal with purchasers and with administrative matters. All the kits are quick to find takers, and the handover day has to be organized, which requires the help of a number of our invaluable volunteers.

Almost the entire Insectarium staff takes part: bagging the plants, preparing thousands of caterpillar tubs, sticking the chrysalides to cardboard, welcoming the breeders, explaining the breeding stages, a labelling workshop... From early September to mid-October, the monarch sets the pace for the Insectarium. Some breeding is entrusted to staff, who keep the breeders updated, virtually day by day, with their comments and thoughts on care to be given by way of an exclusive blog that also allows adoptive parents to share their experience and to find an expert who will answer their questions.

Will you be part of the adventure in 2016?


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