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Park District horticulturist offers training on raising monarch butterflies

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Photo by Kelly White

Dolly Foster, the Oak Lawn Park District horticulturist, hosted a program called “Raising a Monarch Butterfly Training ” on Monday night at the Oak View Center, 4625 W. 110th St., Oak Lawn. More than 20 local families gathered together to learn how to raise monarchs at home.

By Kelly White

Helping to save monarch butterflies can begin right in the comfort of your very own home.

The Oak Lawn Park District assisted local residents in doing just that through a program called, “Raising a Monarch Butterfly Training with the Oak Lawn Park District” on Monday night.

“Raising monarchs is a fun learning experience for all ages to enjoy,” saidDolly Foster, the Oak Lawn Park District Horticulturist. “It must be done responsibly and with care.”

The free class, taught by Foster, was open to the public at the Oak View Center, 4625 W. 110th St., Oak Lawn, and gathered together more than 20 local families.

This was the third year the training class was held in conjunction with the monarch season in the Chicago area, which goes from late May through early September.

At the event, attendees were able to learn how to raise a monarch caterpillar from the egg stage until it transforms into a beautiful butterfly. During the training, participants received a monarch egg of their very own, along with a full materials list and key points on how to raise the caterpillar at home. This training was open to all, but participants were required to be over the age of 10 or be accompanied by an adult. Each family registered was able to take home one egg.

“It means a great deal to me personally because once people experience this metamorphosis, they care more, they notice the insects more and they become butterfly gardeners too,” Foster said.

Foster has personally been raising monarchs in her home for the past 11 years. She raises monarch butterflies from eggs and caterpillars that she finds on planted milkweed at various Oak Lawn Park District facilities and parks. She then releases these butterflies as she raises them.

“I raise about 500 monarchs a year,” Foster said. “I like to educate about monarchs, and I like to have monarchs with me while I educate.”

For Monday night’s class, Foster brought some of her caterpillars from home to show examples of the stages of the butterfly cycle. She also provided information to the families on how to raise the caterpillars from the egg stage until they transform into beautiful monarch butterflies. Families also had the opportunity to ask questions and learn the importance of the preservation of the monarch butterfly.

“About 50 years ago, when I was a kid, there was milkweed everywhere,” said Judy Quenzel, of Oak Lawn, who attended the class with her husband, Dan.

“You don’t see it as often anymore and as a result, the butterflies are losing their habitat,” Quenzel said. “I’ve always been interested in preserving the monarchs and learning what I can do to help at home.”

Quenzel was right in recognizing milkweed as an important factor in monarch preservation and survival.

“It is important to provide habitat for monarchs and other pollinators,”Foster said. “At home, patrons can plant milkweed, New England aster, Native goldenrod and Mexican sunflower. You will have monarchs and other beautiful pollinators during the late summer season. Planting milkweed goes a long way in helping monarchs thrive. These are the plants where monarch butterflies lay their eggs and find their food. More importantly is planting late summer and fall blooming natives to support the monarchs on their journey.”

The journey Foster is referring takes place at the start of every fall season, when all monarch butterflies embark on an incredible cross-country migration that begins in the United States and Canada. Generations of these butterflies travel thousands of miles until they reach Mexico, where they the stay over the winter season until it’s time to begin their migration back home in March.

“Monarchs are our state butterfly and their migration to Mexico is an incredible journey and feat for such a small creature,” said Michael Sinkewich, the Oak Lawn Park District recreation supervisor. “If we do not raise awareness of the conservation concerns for this butterfly, future generations may not get to experience them.”

Foster asked all families who participated in Monday’s training class to bring their raised monarch butterflies to the Oak Lawn Park District’s Annual Monarch Festival event from 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 14 at the Oak View Center.

At Monarch Festival, the raised butterflies will be tagged and released so the families can check on the tag number and see if their butterflies are recorded in Mexico after the migration.

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