Birds and Wildlife

Monarch butterfly project

This committee works for the preservation and public education of birds and/or wildlife on the island.  

Presently we are working on The Monarch Butterfly Project which was established in 2016 with two goals in mind: to have sustainable breeding stations and to bring public awareness to the monarchs’ plight.  Breeding stations, informational flyers and a milkweed garden are a few of the committee’s initiatives.  Presently we have 12 mini breeding stations located with members and establishments and we have been releasing monarchs daily!  Our future projects include a butterfly and pollinator garden by the new pavilion in Barnegat Light, that will be planted in September.   We plan on holding a workshop in June where members will be able to plant their own pots to encourage butterfly breeding and be given instructions on how to raise the monarchs.  The recently completed Forsyth Nature Preserve at the entrance to our Island is a beautiful “Welcome to LBI” addition and we hope to add something to that wonderful environment as well.

The Birds and Wildlife Committee did a little research and found that butterfly decline is not limited to just LBI,  Monarch numbers have dropped ninety percent in the last twenty years and this black and orange beauty is now facing extinction. The reason? Pesticides, herbicides and loss of habitat.

It wasn’t that long ago that our members recall seeing thousand of Monarch butterflies stopping on Long Beach Island to feed and rest during their migration to Mexico. In recent years, however, their scarcity has been not only notable, but alarming.

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Hand-Raising Monarchs

Hand-raising monarchs is a big commitment, but the feeling you get when you release your first butterfly is beyond describing.  Below are some tips to help you along the way. This method isn’t by any means the only way to go about it, but we had a remarkable 96 percent success rate in our first year.  Please email Teresa Hagan (tahmal@verizon.net) if you have any questions.
Good luck!

1 Buy only organic, pesticide-free and herbicide-free milkweed.  Milkweed is the only plant the female will lay her eggs on and it’s the only plant the caterpillars will feed on. We used Asclepias tuberosa(butterfly weed, NOT butterfly bush), Asclepias incarnata(swamp milkweed) and Asclepias curassavica(tropical milkweed). The first two are perennials and the second is an annual.  All three are recommended for our area.

2  You can plant them directly into your garden if you haven’t used any chemicals in the last year, but we used mostly pots for two reasons.  We could control the spread and we could make sure the soil was organic, pesticide-free and herbicide-free.

3  You need to plant nectar flowers nearby to attract females.  We used purple coneflowers (our monarchs’ favorite), hyssop, salvia, bee balm and cosmos.

4 Check the milkweed every day for eggs and/or caterpillars.

Monarch eggs
Caterpillar on leaf

If you find an egg, put the egg and the leaf it’s on on top of a damp paper towel. Then place the towel in a small container. Check twice a day. If the towel dries out, spritz with water.

Once the caterpillar emerges, put a few milkweed leaves in the container and put a lid on.  Start to check at least twice a day. You’ll be amazed how much they’ll eat and poop.  We cleaned our containers each morning and night and gave them fresh milkweed. We tried to avoid handling them and mostly moved them by transferring the leaf they were on. If they were on the lid or the side of the container, we let them be and just cleaned up the poop and gave them fresh leaves. Be sure to put the lid back on–they will escape! And don’t worry about air; cleaning and feeding twice a day gives them more than enough to breathe.

If you find caterpillars, follow the directions above until they’re about an inch long.  Caterpillars this big go into larger containers. Put a paper towel on the bottom. Do not dampen this time. Cover the entire top with mosquito netting. We secure ours with cheap headbands from the dollar store, but twine works just as well. Put each cat in its own container to prevent spreading any disease or contamination.

Also put a stalk of milkweed in a floral tube in the container for them to eat and climb on.  (This also makes it easier to clean the cage twice daily.  Just remove the tube and milkweed. Put the cat aside and wash out the container and change the paper towel.)  Add milkweed as needed.  Also put a few branches in for them to climb and rest on. This is really important because they have trouble climbing on the plastic and have to be able to reach the netting to form a chrysalis.

Glass jar
Mosquito netting
Twigs

5 Eventually (depending on when you found them), the caterpillars will climb onto a branch or the top of the netting and go into a “J” position.   When this happens, do not disturb them.  They’re forming a chrysalis.  YOUR JOB IS BASICALLY OVER AT THIS POINT.

Caterpillar in jar
Butterfly in jar

In about two weeks, a monarch will emerge.  Let him/her hang upside down for about six hours. If there are 3-4 hours of daylight left and it’s not raining or windy, take the netting off and put your hand gently in front of the butterfly. He/she will climb onto your finger (this is the best part; you’ll be so excited when you do your first release), take your hand out of the container and wait.

Eventually, it will fly away.   (We had one who wasn’t ready and she went back in her container for another day.) If the weather is bad for a few days and you can’t release your butterfly, put some rotten watermelon or hummingbird nectar in the container in a small dish until conditions are right.

Releasing the Monarch

Speaking of butterflies...

While we’ve been concentrating on monarchs, Sue Vehslage is concerned about swallowtails–those pesky caterpillars eating your parsley and dill. While the decline in monarchs is making headlines, our feathered friends are picking off swallowtails by the hundreds.

Sue’s asked that if you see a caterpillar on your plants to please net the plant until the butterfly has eclosed (hatched in butterfly lingo). If you can’t do that, she’s offered to take them off your hands, though she’d rather not. As she said, “I don’t want to start a hatchery.

So in 2018, once again, the Club has taken the Monarch butterfly under our wing–so to speak!  Take a look at some of our results.

The life cycle of a Monarch as captured in photos by Pam Masturzo.  The last photo is a swallowtail.

Attracting Monarchs to your garden…

Here are just a few of the local plants that will draw adult Monarchs to your garden. Click on a picture to enlarge.