Why are Monarch butterflies so special? We recently asked five questions of Martine Wong, Fresh Pond Reservation (FPR) Outreach & Volunteer Coordinator, and her Cambridge Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program (MSYEP) intern, Shewit. On August 6th and 7th, amidst some fanfare—kids and puppets—Martine, Shewit and other staff and volunteers released most of the butterflies that they had helped raise, under the auspices of the Water Department of the City of Cambridge, over the course of the summer.
1. Why is FPR raising butterflies for release?
Shewit: We raise Monarch butterflies every year to educate people about and show the life cycle of the butterflies and to teach the importance of milkweed to Cambridge residents so they might plant milkweed in their gardens. Milkweed is the only plant [Monarchs] lay their eggs on and eat when they are caterpillars. The Monarch butterfly is now in decline because of milkweed plants’ reduction by pesticides and because of using land for other purposes such as for pavement and farming.
Martine: There are several reasons we’re raising Monarch butterflies for release at Fresh Pond! We hope to teach people about the connection between shrinking butterfly populations and the importance of protecting wildlife habitat. We also want to show people that there are action steps they can take to protect them—you can plant milkweed and other native pollinator-friendly plants, and help to remove invasive plants such as Black Swallow-wort. Also, they are exquisitely beautiful and a joy to behold.
2. Once you received the larvae in the mail, up until this moment of releasing the full grown butterflies, what surprised you most about them?
Shewit: They eat a lot of milkweed leaves and they grow so fast.
3. If we want to help Monarchs live in our city as a whole, what can kids (and just anyone, for that matter) do to make it a welcoming place for them?
Shewit: To make a welcoming place for the Monarch butterfly is to plant enough milkweed plants in the garden, without pesticides. Once the butterfly lays her eggs, the caterpillar continues living upon the plant until it becomes a butterfly—there is no need to change things or worry about it. OR, If the person does not have garden they can raise them in the cage.
Martine: Monarch butterfly caterpillars exclusively eat milkweed – they truly depend on this plant for their survival. A sea of pesticide/herbicide-free milkweed plants for adults to lay eggs on and for caterpillars to eat would be a great welcome, along with planting native pollinator plants that can provide nectar for adult butterflies.
4. What did you learn from other Monarch projects in the United States?
Shewit: I learned some interesting facts, such as monarchs do not have eyelids and they can see UV lights. If the monarchs are in a cage, they need clean space and food because their waste is too much.
5. If we see a Monarch butterfly at Fresh Pond, will we know it’s one of the ones raised in captivity?
Martine: There’s no way of knowing if it’s one of ours! There are tagging programs for the purposes of learning more about their migration and biology. Perhaps we will try that out next year!
- Find other resources about Monarch butterflies in general, and the Cambridge Water Department program in particular, on the Water Department’s Monarch Watch Page.
- Read the Boston Globe’s coverage of the Cambridge Water Department Monarch Release on August 7, 2016.
- Find out more about the Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program, which partnered with more than 125 community organizations and city departments this year. Opportunities include many in sustainability and environmental fields, in addition to the internship offered at Fresh Pond Reservation and Alewife Reservation.