Saving the Monarch Butterfly
By Jesús Ibarra
The Reserve of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere is located east of the state of Michoacán in the western limits of the state of Mexico. The monarch butterfly sanctuaries are considered among the four natural beauties recognized by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites in Mexico and are open to the public from November to March. This is the period when the butterflies are present. They arrive from Canada in November and go back in March. However, in San Miguel de Allende, Dr. Manuel Velázquez has been able to make monarchs stay in his garden at the Malanquín Golf Club, all year long; they even increase during the summer.
As the monarch butterflies passed over his garden in Celaya eight years ago, Dr. Velázquez noted that some of them stayed there feeding in a wild plant called milkweed. He also saw that they mated and deposited eggs in such plant. The caterpillar born after 10 days fed on the same plant. After two or three weeks, the caterpillar hung from a stem or a branch of the milkweed and became a beautiful jade green cocoon or chrysalis, with a thin yellow crown around it. Dr. Velázquez observed that the process of becoming a chrysalis took only five minutes. Between 12 and 15 days later, a monarch butterfly emerged from the pupa, which now had turned black.
Through observation and study, Dr. Velazquez managed to encourage monarchs to remain in his garden for five years by planting more milkweed. The seeds of this plant are spread by the wind in a slight cotton-like envelope. Three years ago, he moved to San Miguel, planted milkweed in his garden, and started raising butterflies here, too.
“The task is not so easy,” said the doctor. “Monarch butterflies have deadly enemies in this area, such as microscopic flies and arachnids, as well as wasps and common house flies that bite the cocoon and deposit their eggs inside it. The fly’s worm emerges from the egg inside the chrysalis, causing its death.
Dr. Velázquez experimented with a way to protect the caterpillar as well as the chrysalis. “You can collect the eggs in the leaf, cut around the egg, and place it in a flat crystal or plastic dish, and then leave it to hatch. Then you can feed the newborn caterpillar in a container with a perforated lid until it becomes a chrysalis. You must provide it with fresh milkweed leaves twice a day and clean the mess—which is like rabbit pellets and does not smell. Once the time is right, the caterpillar will hang from the roof of the container and become a chrysalis. In 12 or 15 days, it will become a butterfly. Then you can set it free.” In this way, not only does Dr. Velázquez manage to protect the caterpillar, but he also protects the chrysalis from predators like the domestic fly.
He says that it is possible to let the caterpillar develop in the wild and collect the chrysalis by gently detaching it from the stem with tweezers, taking part of the silken net by which it hangs. Then, place it in a secure transparent container with a lid, making holes in the lid to let air in, and hanging the cocoon by tying it with a thin thread to the perforated lid. It will hatch there.
Dr. Velázquez encourages those interested to form a group to receive instruction on how to breed monarch butterflies. “It is truly an amazing experience taking part in this adventure which helps the monarch butterfly to survive in our ever-changing ecological system. “I invite to those interested to join this challenge. I will be delighted to offer support and advice on the process of breeding the monarch butterflies and being an instrument in saving and preserving it.” Dr. Velázquez would like to start a project of a butterfly breeding place in an appropriate place such as Parque Juárez. The most important step is to have plenty of milkweed planted in private gardens or in public areas, since it is their only way for reproduction. The butterflies will follow.
To contact Dr. Velázquez, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org