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Raising Hungry Little Caterpillars

With monarch butterfly numbers on the wane, they need our help

This monarch hatched during the solar eclipse Aug. 21 at Dick and Jane's Farm Stand in Harwood.
     Jane Bishop of Dick and Jane’s Produce Stand in Harwood has been filling empty stomachs for decades. For one set of mouths, however, she goes the extra mile.
     Bishop gathers milkweed leaves to hand-feed tiny monarch caterpillars, checking the undersides for new caterpillars.
     The caterpillars she finds, she raises in a tent at the farm stand and tags them before releasing the developed monarchs for migration.
Each tiny caterpillar in Dick and Jane’s little tent gets a new leaf daily. “They usually go through a lot of greenery,” Bishop says. 
    Last week, she had four monarchs in chrysalises and two caterpillars. During her most productive monarch-raising season, more than 39 butterflies were tagged and released. Last year, fewer than five hatched from chrysalis to be returned to the wild.
    “We have seen some butterflies and some eggs, but we aren’t finding a lot of caterpillars,” Bishop says. “We’ve been doing this for about 10 years, but we just aren’t seeing the numbers we used to. In the past we would find 20 babies, caterpillars in various stages that we would house in two or three cages. Now we are down to one.”
    She blames the late spring for the low numbers thus far.
    Bishop orders tags from Monarch Watch, a conservation program that tracks the insects’ annual migration.
     “I’m trying to be positive,” she says. “I ordered 50 tags. So I hope that they will all be used.”
     Monarch Watch’s Chip Taylor offers hope that Bishop’s 50 tags will go to good use, predicting “a great tagging season with a stronger migration in most regions.”