Monarch Butterfly
The Care and Feeding of a Fledgling Butterfly

(A True Tale of the FASDay Mascot)

by Valerie Surbey of Winnipeg


After raising a "regular" family, my husband and I are raising our second family of four adopted children with developmental disabilities:
three boys with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, and a boy with Down Syndrome. Field trips are always a fun adventure for our family.

I had taken the boys for a drive out to Oak Hammock Marsh, which is a wetlands-type of area where ducks, geese and other migratory birds stop in on their way south or north. There's also lots of critters in the water that the kids can scoop up with nets and inspect.

It was butterfly season, and on the way home, we were driving on the highway. A Monarch butterfly zipped in front of us, and I hit it. I saw it land on the road, so I slowed down, pulled over, and backed up along the shoulder until I came parallel with it. It looked dead. Very dead. I couldn't leave it there to be squished by other traffic, so I picked it up and placed it on the console in the van.

We were about halfway home when the darn thing started to flutter. I nearly drove off the road. It couldn't fly, because its wing was obviously injured quite seriously, but it certainly wanted to try.  And so our butterfly friend came home with us.

Not wanting to leave it out exposed to the elements, we decided to check on the Internet to learn how to keep and feed Monarch butterflies. There wasn't much there. Some sites suggested hummingbird nectar (which I didn't have) and some said that they usually die after about six weeks. We did learn how to tell if we had a boy or girl butterfly. This one was a boy. On the bottom half of the wings, there is a large black spot. Only the males have these. They almost look like eyes.

I called the Living Prairie Museum here in Winnipeg and they were able to get in touch with an expert who worked with the museum in hatching the caterpillars in the spring. He said to make up a solution of sugar and water, soak a small piece of sponge in it, place the butterfly feet first on the sponge, and watch. Butterflies taste through their feet. This one got quite excited when we placed his front feet on the sponge, and the long proboscis uncurled and fixed itself in one of the holes in the sponge. It stayed that way for a long time. Must have been dehydrated. We kept him in the kitchen in a long plastic container from the grocery store, with a plant in there to help him feel at home. It was interesting how this little creature became familiar with me walking into the kitchen, and would get excited because he knew he was going to get a fresh sponge of nectar.

Boy with butterflyWe learned from the Internet how to pick up the butterfly without hurting its wings any further, and the boys were able to allow it to crawl on their hands. It was certainly a Kodak moment.

When I took my boys to a conference in Edmonton, we arranged for the museum to board our butterfly friend while we were away.

We were able to keep this butterfly alive for eight weeks after we picked it up. I was surprised, as was the museum. When our butterfly passed, we buried him in the garden in a small box.

Since that time, we've nurtured one other butterfly, a girl, that we picked up on the way back from our daughter's house one day. Right now, the Monarchs have had their second hatching and through the Winnipeg Free Cycle, I've been able to get a clump of milkweed plant to grow in the backyard. Monarchs only lay their eggs on that plant (although someone told me they like dill weed as well) and the caterpillars eat the leaves. We hope to attract a few next year. In the meantime we have encountered large butterflies all over the city and if we find another injured one, we will bring it home and nurture it again.

Our son with FAS (the one in the photo) now keeps his eyes open when we are driving to try and spot them on the side of the road.

FASD Awareness Day:

Photo: "Boy with FAS and Butterfly" - ©2004 Teresa Kellerman

Music: "Butterflies" by Chris Kellerman

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