Jenny: So, how are you doing? How are your dogs?
Me: Mmumaalkfaa aaama andda bine.
Yes, Jenny was my dental hygienist. Over the years we both developed photographic careers. Jenny is well known as the purveyor of all things butterfly by her dental colleagues and clients. At the right time of the year, you can find a butterfly tree in her office, filled with the jade and gold chrysalises tied with ribbon. Stay there long enough and you might be so fortunate as to watch a monarch emerge.
I've asked Jenny to speak about her work for two reasons; the first, because she is passionate about preservation of the monarch butterfly. Second, Jenny has agreed to collaborate with me on an art/photographic project for this year. You will be able to follow our progress throughout the coming seasons.
1. Welcome Jenny! Tell us how you became involved in saving monarch butterflies?
My love for monarch butterflies was a chain of events that began in my gardens. I had purchased some butterfly weed plants. A week later, while watering the plants, I noticed caterpillars munching away at the plants. I wasn't sure what they were.
Because I love to learn about the critters in my yard, I googled "yellow, black, and white caterpillars". They were monarch caterpillars. I was really excited and happy to have them in my garden. One of my dental clients told me about a "monarch tagging" being held the next weekend. I attended and learned that raising these beautiful creatures in a protected environment will give them a better chance of survival. I've been raising them for five years. Even my Mother and two nieces are raising them!
Now I consciously plant flowers for nectar and as host plants for butterflies. I am always trying to attract different kinds of butterflies to my yard as well.
2. Your pictures have developed into lovely educational tools. What prompted you to start taking photographs?
I started by taking macro shots of my garden flowers with an old point and shoot camera. After I purchased my first good SLR (a Nikon D5100) camera I became obsessed with taking photos of everything in my garden. I learned about every little bug, butterfly, flower, bee and bird. When Facebook came out I started uploading the photos into albums, naming each creature. Facebook friends have commented how they love learning from my photos and posts.
I have accumulated so much experience and knowledge during the past five years that I am writing a book about how to raise monarchs in a protected environment. (I can vouch for Jenny's knowledge base. I've watched her video of a caterpillar eating its way out of the egg shell and viewed her photos of injured monarchs feasting on watermelon slices. She even knows how to tape a torn wing!)
3. I know you go on "caterpillar hunts", looking for eggs and caterpillars. Please describe what one of those hunts is like.
Oh, it's always an adventure! Once a week my Mom and I pack our critter keepers* and head to our usual spot, a meadow filled with milkweed next to a stream. It is a beautiful place to spend a warm summer morning. Finding an egg is a challenge until you know what you're looking for. The eggs are super-tiny, oval, a creamy color with a ribbed-like texture. We enjoy the game of seeing which of us finds the first one.
I'm always on the lookout for new fields of milkweed. I've even posted signs along the road by my house asking the county mowers not to mow or spray the milkweed.
Last year I raised ninety monarchs and each year I try to increase that number.
4. Jenny, why are the monarchs important in your life?
I have become passionate about the monarch butterfly. I learn everything I can about them. The life cycle of a butterfly is fascinating and very educational. It is amazing to watch the tiny caterpillar emerge from its egg shell, change form to one of the most beautiful pieces of art in nature, and then drop from a chrysalis as a monarch.
The butterfly population is a very good indicator of how healthy and diverse our world is. Any loss of butterflies means we are losing diversity in all kinds of plant and animal species.
Monarch numbers have dropped significantly in the past few years. Although, a marginal increase in their numbers did occur this winter, it should not be interpreted to mean the monarchs are thriving. Seeing a monarch in your yard may become as rare as seeing a bald eagle while driving down the road. I hope as more people understand the plight of the monarch butterfly and take action that the monarchs will make a huge comeback!
The federal government recently pledged $3.2 million to help save the monarch. Most of the money will be used to restore over 200,000 acres of habitat. The rest will be used as grants for farmers and land owners to conserve habitats.
My dream is to see the monarchs overwintering in the fir forests of Mexico. I will continue raising monarchs and encourage others to do so, as well.
Please plant some milkweed in your yard and gardens. Enjoy the magic!
Jenny started where she was; in her own yard. She used what she had; flowers, butterflies, and a camera.
What started as curiosity blossomed into a creative project that has importance for us and our environment.
Watch this space for updates about our collaborative project!
Are you involved in any creative projects that grew out of your curiosity? Tell us about them in the comments section.
Leave questions for Jenny in the comments section and I'll make sure she gets them.
*The link listed below is the type of critter keeper used by Jenny. You can see it in the photo above.