When the sidewalk chalk near 48th& Upton reported a monarch release was coming at 4:30 p.m., kids showed up right on time. They took turns sending off newly emerged butterflies from their fingertips.
Fulton residents Dale Hammerschmidt and Mary Arneson organize this all the time.
They released just over 100 monarchs last year. Butterfly cages outgrew their laundry room, and now their living room and windows are packed with cages filled with milkweed collected from the yard. While just 5 percent of monarch eggs hatch and survive in the wild, the survival rate indoors is 95 percent, Arneson said.
They became worried about the monarch population in 2013.
“It was really alarming when we went a summer without seeing more than one monarch,” Arneson said. “We were right on the edge of losing monarchs altogether, and they’re really wonderful during summer. We always took them for granted, and we’re really fond of them.”
So the following summer, they ordered a few caterpillars from a monarch preservation group and released them. Now they keep a close eye on the milkweed in the yard, watching for monarchs to lay eggs. When they notice a monarch touching a leaf with her abdomen, they pull up the plant and place it inside a cage in the house.
The caterpillars will eat up all the leaves on a plant, so they continue to stock it with fresh milkweed. Eventually the caterpillar will crawl up to the roof of the cage and turn into a pupa, where it will stay for 9-14 days. When the cocoon turns dark, they know the butterfly will soon emerge.
“It only takes a few minutes to come out and expand their wings,” Arneson said.
New butterfly wings dry for about two hours, and when they start flying around the cage, they’re ready to go.
Hammerschmidt and Arneson created a stop-action video of the entire transformation, available on YouTube.
When it’s time to release new monarchs, they typically post a note on the Fulton Nextdoor page and chalk a time on the sidewalk so kids can help.
They often receive eggs from people who are moving and worry the new owners will pull out the milkweed.
“There are a lot of other people doing this,” Arneson said.
Giving monarchs a jumpstart is particularly important in spring — each female will lay 700 eggs, Arneson said. Even if just 5 percent survived, the impact multiples.
Certain flies lay eggs on monarch larvae, and the eggs are food for spiders and wasps. Arneson occasionally sees wasps trailing along behind monarchs as they lay eggs, and she races to grab the eggs before wasps reach them. Studies report loss of milkweed habitat is partially due to factors like widespread adoption of herbicide-tolerant crops and the herbicide that accompanies them.
But in Minneapolis, Arneson said she’s encouraged to see more and more milkweed.
“Lots of people are letting milkweed grow up in their gardens,” she said.