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The Wrack

The Wrack is the Wells Reserve blog, our collective logbook on the web.

Helping to Make Monarchs More Than a Memory

Posted by Wells Reserve Contributor | October 7, 2015

Monarch caterpillar on milkweedThree years ago I observed a magical happening while on a drive along Ocean Avenue in Kennebunkport. Suddenly I was surrounded by what appeared to be a veritable storm of brightly colored pieces of paper fluttering past me. Upon stopping I saw that these were monarchs gathering in the Rosa rugosa at the water’s edge. There was a strong onshore breeze and they were flying about, hesitant to launch over the open water.

Occasionally one would venture out, only to be blown back to join the others in the safety of the roses. One or two ventured forth, flying several feet above the surface of the water and disappearing in the distance. I hoped they made it. I marveled at their innate drive to continue their hazardous journey. This was a reminder of the innumerable obstacles they would encounter as they followed their own compass on the long journey ahead. The only monarchs I have seen since are the occasional orange and black beauty flying alone above our flower beds.

My daily walks often include a loop through the reserve. One day in late August, I noted about ten folks working among the milkweeds in the field behind the farmhouse. They would stop to cut off a stalk, turn it upside down and study the undersurface of each leaf. They were looking for evidence of monarchs, either tiny white eggs or caterpillars.

Suzanne Kahn told me if they found a caterpillar they would place it on the leaf of a milkweed in a field not destined for mowing in the fall. Should eggs be found attached to the leaf the “rescue team” was prepared to attach that leaf to the leaf of a plant in the other field. The reserve’s annual monarch rescue is timed to occur before certain fields are mowed in the fall.

I observed an intense concentration in the rescuers, each looking for, and hoping to find, evidence of monarch activity. Occasionally someone would point out a solitary monarch flying over the field.

By the end of the day the group had moved 38 caterpillars to safety, a much better result than the zero found in 2014.

I hope their efforts, combined with habitat preservation and restoration, will one day make that scene I encountered on Ocean Avenue become commonplace.

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