Here’s my latest piece in ParentsCanada Magazine about a family that breeds monarch butterflies and plants for nature.
For Sunila and Devin Melanson, the adage “a family that plays together, stays together” is truer still when it comes to connecting in nature.
The Ancaster, Ont., couple consistently make it a priority to expose their children, Calvin, 12, and Sean, 10, to the natural world. “We have always tried to nurture the kids’ sense of wonder,” says Devin. “Even as toddlers, we encouraged them to see what native flowers they could find.”
Five years ago, concerned about the plight of the declining monarch butterfly, Devin and Sunila started trying to encourage pollinators on their property by planting 36 common milkweed plants. The family visited the Butterfly Conservatory in Cambridge, Ont., and got a book on how to raise monarchs.
Over the last couple years, the Melansons have deepened their commitment to raising and releasing monarchs by nurturing even more of them. Devin built a system that allows the caterpillars to create their chrysalis in a safe environment; the butterflies are then moved into an outdoor dining tent (a recent addition) that contains beds of milkweed and is in the partial shade of a maple tree. They’ll linger here for a short while before they are released to join fellow monarchs on their more than 1,000-km journey to Mexico.
To date, the Melansons have released more than 500 monarchs.
The Melansons have welcomed people interested in learning about the project into their yard and they continue to encourage other families to raise a monarch or two – providing them with a few eggs to get them started.
They are also protective of habitat that contains the food these butterflies need in order to thrive. Sean explains how he and his mother took action on noticing that a patch of milkweed by the local swimming pool was being cut down. “We talked to the administration there and they put up a sign saying don’t cut the milkweed.” The family is currently raising Swallowtail butterflies, too. “We found them on the parsley and dill – it’s what they like best,” says Sean. “They are in the chrysalis for the whole winter.”
The family frequently offers presentations to school groups and to the broader community through the Hamilton Pollinators Paradise Project, a locally based initiative whose goal is to plant a “highway” habitat of native species for pollinators across the city’s urban landscape.