There is much debate as to why I support a non-native butterfly. Instead of focusing on native butterflies rather than a butterfly that arrived in New Zealand by its own free will. From my experience and witnessing other people raising Monarchs, I believe Monarchs are the doorway to the world of magic within nature and to the world of butterflies!
I am not unsupportive of native butterflies, I just simply do not know enough about them to write or talk about them. I am attracted to Monarch butterflies more due to their grace, colour, and presence. My answer boils down to this, Monarch butterflies lead me to understand and learn about New Zealand endemic butterflies such as Red Admiral Kahukura, & the Yellow Admiral Kahu Kowhai butterflies. Monarchs are big and beautiful and easy to spot on sunny days, which leads to a curiosity into the world of butterflies.
Does that really matter, Monarchs are not native to New Zealand? They arrived here by free will in the 1870s. Does that mean they are classified as undocumented migrants, and we shouldn’t help their conservation? They are very much welcome here, in my eyes every person I meet has a story about their grandparents growing swan plants and remembering how much joy this brought them as a kid. When people see a butterfly, they instantly gaze at them in awe, nature fills their soul and sparks joy. Butterflies are an easy way to get immersed in nature, people just stop at the moment when seeing a butterfly flutter past them. Watching caterpillars is also very captivating, observing how they move up and down their host plant and munch through as many leaves as possible until they nearly burst. Seeing them literally shed their skin and wriggle out it is so mind-boggling, it makes me smile seeing them crawling around in circles looking for the perfect place to form a “j” ready for the start of metamorphosis to begin.
Monarch Caterpillars feed on swan plants, whereas the Admirals’ pupa on nettles. Nettles sting kids and as I child I stayed well away from them as I always used to get stung. I have only ever taken a few photos of yellow and red Admirals and love watching them, but these are harder to capture in flight as they are fast flying. I don’t have any nettles freely growing in my garden to attract the Admirals to lay her eggs. I have also tried to source nettles and Admiral eggs, so I can introduce them to the butterfly house in the city for everyone to see and learn about, but had no luck. This is something I will focus on this summer.
Monarchs are not classified as a pests they are important pollinators in our environment that pollinate our flowers whilst bringing joy to everyone in their path. They teach us that transformation is part of everyone’s life and change is good. They bring us hope! They do not kill or prey on another other species, unlike the stoats, possums and rats, which were introduced and have detrimental effects on our native species, flora and fauna.
This is why one of the reasons I’m passionate about the monarch butterfly. It gets children and adults out into nature in their own backyards caring for the ecosystem and biodiversity. Being surrounded by nature reduces our stress levels, and brings us to a sense of peace. This is where I also believe people start to feel a spiritual presence in their life having those wonderful moments, questioning how astonishing nature is, and seeing how much beauty there is in nature. The new life of a butterfly, a new awareness of breath, earth, micro-organisms, a stillness, all while getting lost in utter enchantment by a species that can be reborn. For two weeks the chrysalis hangs like a teardrop, motionless and still. We worry that the chrysalis won’t make it and hope it will be ok. This happens to us in between chapters of our lives, we need to practice patience, and now we have to fully trust what doors may magically open in our own lives for us. Just stay still and listen for your answers or find the signs in nature, I promise you they are there. The caterpillar inside the chrysalis has full faith it will be reborn. Under the surface, everything is breaking and letting go of everything this it once was. This is nature, showing us that we undergo trauma and people can reinvent themselves fully as humans. We can transform and reborn, it’s magic in real life. Connecting with our environment offers us deep healing and energizes our bodies and clears our foggy heads. Nature leads to curiosity, and appreciation for our natural world and for the creatures and people in it. We soon realize the forgotten curiosity that we had as a kid is reignited, and the love for all insects and bugs comes back. Knowing all insects have a job within our ecosystem, it’s our responsibility to take care of them, by not killing them with pesticides and harmful pollutants that ruin their home. Butterflies also are very sensitive to changes in the environment and thus are good indicators in assessing how healthy or unhealthy conditions are. As a result, they are widely used by ecologists to help evaluate the impacts of habitat loss, pesticides, and climate change. Are these good enough reasons to get outside and plant some swan plants for the Monarchs to appear and lay her eggs on?
Since gaining an understanding of Monarch butterflies and creating a habitat in my garden, Admirals visit my garden and are part of my life too. I’m more aware of them when I’m out and about too in park reserves and often witness Admirals hanging out on gum trees. Caring for Monarchs and understanding what our gardens are all about, we can connect with the bees and birds too. Simply by planting Cosmo flowers, which last till late autumn, which provides a great food source for birds such as goldfinches, bee’s and Monarch to feast on. Recently I had the pleasure of witnessing 5 finches at once eating the seeds on my Cosmos flowers.
I spend my precious hours outside, weeding, pruning, nurturing our pollinator haven and I have an even larger area for my veggies and seedlings. Being outside is like another full-time job. When I’m not teaching at schools. I get a sense of accomplishment, purpose, and instant gratification when I step back and see how much work I have accomplished. Sometimes I only go outside quickly to hang my washing and hours pass by. Being lost in nature is something very rewarding and relaxing at the same time. It’s a family affair when I’m out there, Lola is mixing and making her spells/potions with flower petals, green leaves, and sticks in my best kitchen bowls. My youngest son, complains when I tell him to get off my greenhouse as it’s full of Tonka trucks that’s a new home for the worms he’s just discovered. Felix says it’s his work site, whilst top to tail in mud in the only section where there is nothing growing.
Each year together our fascination with nature expands and we have our own worm farm that been fun to look after.