The Butterfly Lady

You may have noticed an increase in the monarch butterfly population in the New Carlisle area last summer. Mother Nature was certainly a factor, but she had an able helper in Mary Montenaro, known affectionately to her family and many of her friends as “The Butterfly Lady.”

For years Mary has raised monarch butterflies. It was an interest and a passion developed because of her mother’s love of the monarch.

The passion has increased in recent years because the monarch has become an endangered species! Mary has joined the International Save the Monarch organization and done a number of things to do exactly that; save the monarch.

You have probably seen her butterfly garden. Mary resides on the corner of Timothy/Race and Chestnut. Her front lawn is dominated by milkweed plants. Milkweed is critical to the monarch. The female butterfly lays her eggs on the milkweed leaves and the resulting caterpillar eats the leaves before forming its chrysallis.

Self conscious about a lawn that is full of gigantic weeds, Mary has posted a number of signs indicating that there is a purpose to cultivating those weeds.

The female monarch may lay up to 500 eggs. Left in the wild, only 5 of those eggs are likely to become butterflies. Mary has tried to increase the odds of survival by reaping the eggs before bugs can get them. If she sees a monarch alight on one of her milkweed plants, she is out looking as soon as it departs.

Despite her best efforts she doesn’t spot every egg, but continued searches often reveal baby caterpillars and sometimes even what Mary calls “big boys,” that is a nearly full grown caterpillar.

Over the years Mary has amassed an array of cages that she places the eggs or caterpillars in so that they can mature to butterflies. Last year Mary had her most productive year, releasing over 50 butterflies!

The butterflies she releases herself are not the only ones she is contributing to the population. Mary has done presentations at the Olive Branch of the library and has helped Miss Sarah become an expert as well.

The library crew has released a number of butterflies of their own in the past few years. Mary also supplies friends in the community or from church with eggs and caterpillars to raise.

In the fall, she gathers all her cages from these friends and conducts a class for students at her grandchildren’s school.

Each student enrolled in her Afternoon Adventure class “Save the Monarch Butterfly” gets a caterpillar to raise and release and over the 4 sessions learns all about the monarch’s life cycle, how to grow milkweed, and how to care for the caterpillars.

Thanks to Mary, the monarch population in New Carlisle and St. Joseph and LaPorte Counties is on the rise! Once again it is spring, the monarchs are returning, and Mary is ready to renew the pursuit of her passion!

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© 2016 by The New Carlisle Gazette