Habitat for caterpillars
NEWELL — Some people may take a casual liking to butterflies, but local resident Stacey Adkins has not only provided a home for them, she also looks to educate the community on their importance.
For the past year, Adkins has provided care for numerous caterpillars and butterflies — monarch and chrysalis — from inside her Newell home, which has recently been registered by Monarch Watch as a Monarch Waystation, which provides shelter and food — host plant and nectar plant — for the caterpillars as they eventually become butterflies.
Inside her home are 170 caterpillars, for which she cares daily and makes sure they remain healthy, something she has taken quite a bit of pride in considering the work she has put in to it.
“What started out as just a few condiment cups on the dining room table turned into more condiment cups in the office, to ‘Honey, we need the poker table’, ‘Honey, I need the second poker table’, ‘Honey, I need some five-foot enclosures’,” Adkins said. “I’ve always had a ‘go big or go home’ mentality. I adore them.”
Adkins’ love for butterflies began during her childhood while visiting her grandparents, where she took after their interest in gardening.
“They were avid gardeners, from flowers to vegetables,” Adkins said. “I never really sort of caught the whole vegetable bug, but the flower part I did, and I remember just being a kid looking out for the lightning bugs, looking out for the caterpillars, and that love just sort of stayed with me.”
She said the first count started with 14 caterpillars, but soon dwindled day by day until all of the caterpillars were gone, all victims to predators.
“Then the next day I’d be down to nine, the next day I’m down to six, and the next day, they were all gone,” Adkins said. “They were being attacked by predators. They were being attacked by parasites and they were dying.”
Dismayed by the results, Adkins decided to research information where she learned that, if left alone, monarchs have a less than five-percent chance of survival. Not willing to let that happen again, she took it upon herself to start a habitat for the caterpillars.
She started by looking for caterpillar eggs in the milkweed twice a day, which were placed in cups. From there, she moves them inside to a different habitat where they are fed twice a day with a pesticide-free milkweed.
“The milkweed is washed in a water to bleach solution, 19 part water to one part bleach, for about 30 seconds,” Adkins said. “I do this twice a day to all of them. Because they do nothing but eat, they do nothing but frass. They basically take care of themselves once you find some fresh pesticide-free milkweed in a clean safe environment, they will do the rest.”
Adkins said that her goal is eventually to increase the butterfly population, which she said had declined by 80 percent in the U.S. over the past two decades, mainly due to lack of habitat and pesticide-free milkweed.
She mentioned that thousands of others across the country are also hosting waystations, some on a larger scale, so that the butterfly population can continue to flourish.
“If something is not done, 15 years or 20 years from now, the monarch butterfly would be extinct,” Adkins said. “It will be gone. It’s when you think of animals that could potentially become endangered or risk endangerment because of a lack of habitat, you think of rhinos or pandas or elephants. You don’t think of a butterfly, but that’s exactly what’s happening.”
As she raises the butterflies, she is also looking into other options to expand and bring awareness to butterflies. Next year, she will be looking to set up a butterfly garden with all-post and all-nectar plants at the World’s Largest Teapot in Chester, and also plans to host and speak at a butterfly release luncheon, which aims to not only educate those interested in butterflies, but also celebrate its importance.
“It’s all about educating people,” Adkins said.
Along with providing information at these events, she also looks to educate children on the importance of the butterfly’s life cycle. Recently, she spoke to several children at Beaver Local Elementary where she also donated 75 chrysalis butterflies.
Acknowledging that it was her first time giving a demonstration before a class, she said she had enjoyed it and looked forward to having more demonstrations for other schools. Those who are interested in having Adkins speak or provide a demonstration may contact her at (330) 314-0295.