Butterflies are free, harder to find

SALEM – If you noticed fewer butterflies, you are not alone.

Dorothy Reynolds has raised butterflies for 15 years. “I’ve raised hundreds in one year, but there haven’t been a whole lot. By this time last year I probably would have had 500 by now. Right now, I have six in chrysalis ready to become butterflies in a couple of days. I’ve had them sitting out on tables a hundred at a time.”

Reynolds, a 1960 graduate of Beaver Local High School, has made presentations to schools, taught classes and shared her knowledge for years, and noticed there have been fewer Monarch butterflies.

There are several reasons, she said, including the winter migratory habitat and spraying along roads and gardens.

“Spraying along roads just kills any caterpillar eggs,” she said, noting this is the worst year for the Monarch butterflies, which she added are just beginning to show up.

“Last year was kind of bad,” she said. “The Monarchs go to Mexico and gather in a form of hibernation. They use certain kinds of trees in Mexico and those trees are being cut down because of disease.”

A not so cold winter allowed bugs that don’t normally survive real frigid weather to make it through, she said, explaining those bugs then frequent milkweed – a favorite for butterflies. “The milkweed is full of other bugs and butterflies don’t like to lay eggs so it’s a combination,” she said, adding that milkweed is the only plant Monarch butterflies lay their eggs on.

“The milkweed plants look bad,” she said. “They’re covered with bugs. It doesn’t look good this year. I believe it’s our weather. Bugs weren’t killed this year and other bugs are on the plants. I have a clover field and it usually has all kinds of butterflies. They get their nectar from cloves. I’m not seeing many.

“There are a lot of people who raise butterflies, a lot of teachers and they talk about it -how the population is down. So it’s a noticeable problem.”

Reynolds explained that of all the butterflies, the Monarch is the most common and easiest to raise in a jar and feed. While they’re easy to raise, Reynolds also pointed out that, “Man is the butterflies’ worst enemy.”

She’s a proponent of natural gardening. “I’ve heard mixing dishwashing detergent with water kills bugs without harming the plant.”

Her attraction to butterflies was gradual, she said, explaining, “I’m a Christian. I felt it had to do with God directing me. It was a progressive thing. I took a picture of a butterfly. Nothing I chose to do right away. I was chasing butterflies with a camera. (Then) a woman gave me a butterfly in a jar and then I watched it lay an egg. It’s really amazing to watch the process – metamorphosis – a caterpillar from an egg. For two weeks the caterpillar eats and grows and then forms a chrysalis and in a week to 10 days that turns into a butterfly.”

She said most of Ohio’s butterflies live two weeks and lay from 300 to 500 eggs. From there the cycle repeats. Reynolds explained the last brood near the end of September doesn’t breed and flies off to Mexico.

“They hang on the trees there by the millions and start north again after mating,” she said. “But the ones that leave Mexico don’t make it all the way,” she said, noting it’s the third generation that gets back here.