In my garden are milkweed plants. Yes, weeds!! But they have a very valuable place in the eco system and the survival of the endangered Monarch butterfly. I have become fascinated in the incredible transformational saga of these majestic members of the Lepidoptera family. The Mother Monarch lays eggs only on milkweed because that is the only plant the caterpillar will eat as it begin its metamorphic journey. And eat they do, stripping plants of all foliage within less than 24 hours. Today, my next-door-children came to count the number of caterpillars chomping away on leaves. Some of the 'pillars are the size of my pinky while other can hardly be seen at all. The kids squealed with delight as they kept counting.
"Ooo, Look at that tiny one. It’s number 20."
"No wait. look under the leaf. No wait, there’s one on the wall."
"Thirty nine," hollered Maggie—the oldest with an air of knowing. After all, she studied the Monarchs in school.
"But that’s counting the three that are now chrysalis."
Holy Schmolly. How am I going to keep 36 hungry caterpillars in food?? But I will find a way. Their transformation helps me believe that the impossible is always... possible. It is a lesson about those people whom we might regard as "caterpillars". Such people can hold so much more beauty and possibility inside if we supply the right environment. (Listen up leaders!)
This week, I finally was able to record the caterpillar on my iPhone, shedding its skin to become enclosed. You can watch the video at https://vimeo.com/133281527.
Remember as you watch this: I am crouched in a flower bed, holding the phone. You’ll see me stumble. Doesn’t matter. You will behold an amazing transformation. The tenacity with which this creature works to shed the skin it no longer needs is another great message about resiliency. While it might be a struggle, could we be holding on to an external personae that we need to shed in order to become who we are meant to be? Something to think about.
PS: As detailed in a new report from the Center for Food Safety, the butterfly’s dramatic decline is being driven in large part by the widespread planting of genetically engineered crops in the Midwest, where most monarchs are born. The vast majority of genetically engineered crops are made to be resistant to Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, a potent killer of milkweed, the monarch caterpillar’s only food. The dramatic surge in Roundup use with Roundup Ready crops has virtually wiped out milkweed plants in midwestern corn and soybean fields. It is estimated that in the past 20 years these once-common, iconic orange-and-black butterflies may have lost more than 165 million acres of habitat — an area about the size of Texas — including nearly a third of their summer breeding grounds.
The population has declined from a recorded high of approximately 1 billion butterflies in the mid-1990s to only 56.5 million butterflies this winter, the second lowest number ever recorded, after a slight rebound that is likely attributable to favorable weather during their breeding season. The overall population shows a steep and statistically significant decline of 82 percent over the past couple of decades. In addition to herbicide use with genetically engineered crops, monarchs are also threatened by global climate change, drought and heat waves, other pesticides, urban sprawl and logging on their Mexican wintering grounds.
Monarchs need a very large population size to be resilient to threats from severe weather events and predation. Nearly half of the overwintering population in Mexico can be eaten by bird and mammal predators in any single winter; a single winter storm in 2002 killed an estimated 500 million monarchs — 8 times the size of the entire current population.
PS: Exactly 31 caterpillars made it to the chrysalis stage when I left home to speak--for the second time--to 12,000 Thirty One Gifts consultants. Now--what are the odds of that!!!!