There is nothing in nature quite like the monarch butterfly, which makes an annual migration of more than 3,000 miles, from as far north as Canada to Mexico. Butterflies also go through quite a metamorphosis themselves, changing from a larva to a caterpillar before finally emerging and taking flight.
So in a way it seems appropriate that a group of children from the Mercy Learning Center got to experience the life cycle of a monarch this year, courtesy of the Long Hill Garden Club. Mercy Learning Center is a Bridgeport-based nonprofit agency that helps single mothers improve the lives of themselves and their children through education, job training and more.
Lois Pfrommer, a garden club member, said the joint project happened quite by chance.
“It just happens that one of our members is on the board of the Mercy Learning Center, and we thought it would be great for the children to see this life cycle,” Pfrommer said. “Club members built a habitat, and brought in the butterfly eggs.”
The children are part of the Mercy day care program that the facility provides while their mothers are attending classes. Pfrommer said the children got to watch the larvae develop into caterpillars, then spin a cocoon before emerging as an adult monarch. The children then took the butterflies outside and released them.
“They watched the whole process happen in their classroom,” she said. “The beautiful thing is that when they brought them outside, the butterflies will stay on their hands for a while, then take off. They get the feeling of really having touched them.”
The Mercy Learning Center partnership is an offshoot of another garden club project, where members have built two butterfly way stations for the insects to lay over on their long migration. In fact, the migration (at 50 to 100 miles per day) takes so long that it takes five butterfly generations to complete.
“The way station provides a place for the butterflies to land and lay their eggs,” Pfrommer said. “Then the adults die, but then the next generation emerges from the eggs and continues on.”
The two way stations, at the Nature and Art Center and Old Mine Park, are new this year but will be ready and waiting in the spring when the monarchs are on their way north for the summer.
The way station at the Nature Center is a restoration of the butterfly garden started years ago by garden club members Meg Smith and Ruth Mohr. The garden has been revitalized and new plants added. The one at Old Mine Park, toward the rear of the parking lot, on the riverbank side, was planted with help from Parks Department supervisor Dmitri Paris, who sourced the plants and had the planting bed prepared, and Rick Bednar, a Parks Department employee, who did the design and planting. A group of 11 garden club volunteers worked on the gardens.