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For the love of the monarch

August 4, 2012
By Cindy Votruba , Marshall Independent

MaryAnn Oakland of Clarkfield didn't have to go far to get shots for her new exhibit as she raises the photos' subject.

In the last five years, Oakland has raised and released more than 2,250 monarch butterflies. Photos of her monarchs are on display at the Daily Grind in downtown Marshall.

About one in 10 eggs make it to become a butterfly, so that's why Oakland decided to start raising monarchs in 2007. She did a lot of Internet research to learn how to get started. Besides monarchs, Oakland has raised other types of butterflies, including painted ladies and black swallowtails.

Oakland said monarchs are on decline because of so many reasons: deforesting of their winter migration habit in Mexico, destruction of their habitat throughout the United States because of the increase of corn and soybean production and herbicide-tolerant corn and soybeans.

"The monarch caterpillar depends on the milkweed to feed on, it is the only thing it eats and there is less of it every year," Oakland said. "I want to encourage everyone to please leave their milkweed alone so the monarch may live."

When she's driving along somewhere, such as coming home from work, Oakland will stop on a gravel road to collect milkweed for her monarchs. Currently, she still has 100; five have recently eclosed, or "hatched."

"I've got to get fresh milkweed every day," she said. And that's been getting hard to come by lately, she said.

She raises the butterflies from an egg, which she'll find on the milkweed itself, plucking a leaf and sometimes the stem. Oakland has more than 100 quart-size canning jars around her house for the eggs.

"I also collect monarch eggs and caterpillars to raise, protecting them from parasites and predators. It is a big process, cleaning their containers daily and feeding them fresh milkweed, so it keeps me very busy," she said.

Sometimes it can take three or more hours to clean the jars, she said.

From egg to butterfly is about three to four weeks, Oakland said. An egg hatches in three to five days. Once a caterpillar gets to five "instars," it begins to pupate.

Oakland plants a lot of zinnias at her and her husband's farm, with about 2,000 zinnias.

"They are a good nectar plant for the monarchs and other butterflies," she said.

When she started raising monarchs, Oakland started out with just a dozen, doubling the number every year. The following year, she had 123; in 2010, she had 671 monarchs. Last year, she raised 839.

"That kept me very busy," she said. She remembered spending nine hours one day cleaning out all the jars and putting in fresh milkweed. Last year, she bleached and sanitized all the jars.

Oakland said this past year has been challenging.

"This spring started out so promising with such a warm rainy spring, it was perfect for the butterflies and we saw a lot at first," Oakland said. "But now with our drought and hot conditions, it is not looking so good any more for the butterflies. So I feel it is so important to do what I can."

Oakland said there have been some days when she'll wonder why she keeps raising monarchs. Then she'll remember why.

"I get such enjoyment of releasing a monarch," Oakland said. The most she's released at a time is 57. Or there's been the occasion where she released 50 one day and 30 the next day.

She's also been to the annual Monarch Festival in the Twin Cities in September.

"I went there last year and brought my own monarchs to tag and release," she said. "They tag monarchs so they can track where they go and for other data."

Oakland said she's also helped one of her friends get started in raising monarchs and encourages others to help the monarchs as well.

"There are several different varieties of milkweed people can grow for the monarch caterpillar," she said. "I have about nine butterfly weed perennial plants that can get to be a nice size and have pretty orange blossoms. The monarch caterpillar can feed on it and the monarch butterfly can get nectar from itI am always looking for new perennials that attract butterflies, the more flowers I have, the more butterflies."



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