PREPARING A KALEIDOSCOPE OF MONARCHS TO HEAD SOUTH
BY EILEEN PERSIKE
Just blocks from downtown Rhinelander is a monarch breeding ground, but it’s not in a park or even outdoors. In an unassuming home on the city’s west side, one Rhinelander woman is taking it upon herself to insure the survival of the unmistakable orange, black and white butterfly. Paula Larson has been raising monarchs since 2005, and breeding them about two years.
“I have loved monarchs my entire life,” Larson said. “When I was young, I would put them in my sock drawer; as a mother, that makes me cringe now!”
Maybe they are not in a dresser drawer, but Larson keeps her butterflies in three large mesh cages in her living room. While monarchs are not considered endangered, butterfly conservationists believe climate change is threatening the habitats they encounter. Breeding them in captivity is Larson’s way, she says, of keeping them off the Endangered Species list.
“If that happens, we won’t be able to do this anymore,” according to the breeder. “We won’t be able to touch them.”
Monarchs go through four stages during one life cycle, and through four generations in one year. Millions will fly to Mexico to spend the winter, including the butterflies hatching in Larson’s home. But first she will tag each one.
“Three of my tagged monarchs were found in Mexico last spring,” Larson said. “They flew 2,326 miles.”
The butterflies are tracked through Monarch Watch, an organization with a website that provides breeders like Larson everything she needs, like the tiny stickers that contain a toll-free telephone number and a tracking code.
The 200 monarchs, as a group called a kaleidoscope or a swarm, bred and raised by Paula Larson will be set free in the Northwoods within the next few days. Plans for doing it all again next year are in the works. Follow the progress of Larson’s monarchs on her Facebook page, Monarch March.