On a sunny afternoon in the meadow at Sahli Nature Park, children and their families gathered around a netted cage full of fluttering butterflies.

Pam Varga, the park naturalist, gently placed an orange and black Monarch butterfly onto the outstretched hand of each child. Eyes wide with delight, the children watched as the butterflies launched themselves into the air.

Eyes wide with delight, the children watched as the butterflies launched themselves into the air. The butterflies flew into the pollinator gardens, and everyone followed. Racing from flower to flower, children laughed with excitement, watching the butterflies sip nectar from colorful blossoms. There were lots of smiles, and lots of pictures were taken. The children were happy to have helped to release the beautiful butterflies.

Preparation for this event actually began in February in the greenhouse where Pam and Rose Chiotti, a park volunteer, began planting seeds. They planted trays of milkweed, the only plant that Monarch caterpillars eat. They also planted herbs and flowers for the pollinator gardens. The flowers provide nectar for adult butterflies and pollen and nectar for bees. Some of the plants will also be host plants where butterflies will lay their eggs.

From late June through mid-September, Monarch caterpillars are raised on milkweed in the greenhouse. Adult butterflies are kept in a 4’ x 4 x 5’ netted cage where they can fly freely. After the butterflies lay eggs on milkweed plants in the cage, the butterflies are released. There are usually three or four  butterfly releases at the park during the summer. The Monarchs released in September will migrate to Mexico for the winter. These butterflies will have tiny numbered tags attached to their wings. Information on the tagged butterflies is sent to Monarch Watch, an organization at the University of Kansas to aid in the study of Monarch migration.

The Monarch population in North America has declined nearly 85% in recent years. By raising Monarchs at the park, Pam and Rose are doing their part to increase the population and to educate park visitors about Monarchs and gardening for butterflies.

The park greenhouse is open daily from July through September so that visitors can see the Monarch butterfly nursery and talk with “Monarch Mamas” Pam and Rose. Dates of butterfly releases and tagging are posted on the Sahli Nature Park Facebook page and on the map board in the parking lot. We hope that you and your family will visit the park and share the fun and excitement of raising and releasing beautiful Monarch butterflies.

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