Written by Tom Bryce, C.R.E.A.T.E. volunteer
Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks!
When First Baptist Church member Pat Gibson came to the FBS James Island Campus to teach us about Monarch Butterflies and their amazing life cycle and migration journey, I started my own “new” journey! As a fisheries biologist, I’ve always been fascinated by fish. From a young age of learning how to fish with my father, to being an aquarium keeper of tropical fish, to volunteering at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History’s Division of Fishes in high school and then pursuing a career in fisheries management, I became a life-long lover of fish. But little did I know that my heart would be captured by a butterfly at age 67! Instead of me catching a butterfly in a net, the Monarch butterfly caught me!
In early March, when many of the First Baptist high school students were traveling to different destinations during “Travel Week”, those of us with the school’s C.R.E.A.T.E program, hosted a “Nature Break Week” to engage the students that stayed locally. Our objective was to invite students to participate in a few outdoor activities on the campus and take a couple field trips. With the help of science teachers, Mrs. Crawford and Mrs. Jackson, members of the school’s C.R.E.A.T.E. Club led our 7th and 8th grade science classes in exploring the trails, fields and pond on the James Island campus. The highlight came on Friday, when Mrs. Gibson brought us several potted milkweed plants and taught us all about the Monarch butterfly! Mrs. Gibson is a Master Gardener and quite the Monarch butterfly enthusiast! The 7th and 8th graders prepared the flower bed and planted the five gifted milkweed plants. She taught us that milkweed is critical to the butterfly’s survival as the caterpillars feed exclusively on their leaves in preparation to them metamorphosing into the next generation of adult butterflies.
Then came the Coronavirus and the closing of all schools. With no students around to help with the care of this new butterfly garden, I took on the task of periodically watering the plants. The day my heart got “captured” by the Monarch butterfly was when I went to water and noticed that many of the leaves on the 5 milkweed plants had “disappeared”! My first thought was that “someone” maliciously plucked all the leaves off the stems! I knelt down to take a closer look and to my surprise and delight what do I see? A large black, yellow and white-striped Monarch caterpillar! Then I spotted a 2nd, and a 3rd, and after examining the 5 plants, I counted a total of 5 caterpillars! The Monarch butterflies that flew up from Mexico earlier this Spring had found our school and found our plants! WOW! God is quite the amazing “conductor” of His symphony orchestra we call creation!!
My 1st question was, “How did adult butterflies from Mexico find these small, inconspicuous plants to lay their eggs in this wee small corner we call First Baptist High School on James Island, South Carolina?”
And my 2nd question was, “How did these 5 caterpillars consume almost all the leaves and blossoms in one day?”
It just amazes me how God works in such small and quiet ways to care for butterflies and caterpillars! This should give us renewed hope that He will take care of us during the crazy virus season we find ourselves walking through!! And the following Scripture comes to mind: Matthew 6: 25-34
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
As I write this, some of the bigger caterpillars have now attached themselves to the underside of the milkweed leaves and have already transformed into suspended chrysalises, awaiting the emergence of beautiful orange and black butterflies!
Here is what preceded the caterpillars that I observed that day and what is yet to follow: The previous generation’s adult butterfly had flown all the way up from Mexico, where they over wintered. Then they mated and laid eggs on our milkweed plants. This stage initiated 2020’s “first generation” of the Monarch. Within 4 days, the eggs hatched to form a caterpillar or larva, the second stage.
At this stage, the larvae ate the milkweed upon which it lives. As they consume the milkweed leaves, the caterpillars will attain full growth and attach to some place like a leaf or stem by discharging silk for suspension. Then they undergo the process of metamorphosis to transform into a pupa or chrysalis (stage 3). After the chrysalis is formed, the metamorphosis transformation will progress over the next 10 to 14 days as the old body parts of the pupa evolve into the beautiful parts of the future adult butterfly (stage 4). Then the adult butterfly will emerge in the mid-morning time and fly away in search of food and a mate…flying north to start generation #2. This will occur 3 more times before the 4th generation flies back to Mexico in the Fall to spend their next winter.
Since the initial planting, we’ve added more milkweed plants to the “garden”, planted some additional “nectar” flowering plants, and become an officially registered “Monarch Waystation”! Now this fisheries biologist is “hooked” on the Monarchs! When the students return to campus, we will create a 2nd Monarch Waystation for next year’s winged-travelers!
Take a look at this video to better understand the amazing life story of the Monarch butterfly!
If you’re interested in partnering with us on this project, and assisting with other C.R.E.A.T.E. projects, please reach out to Ms. Sheree Bridges, College Counselor and C.R.E.A.T.E. Liaison; firstname.lastname@example.org ; 843-410-1606.
In conclusion, we are reminded of what God said to Job about His infinite power, wisdom and knowledge! He truly is King…our Mighty Monarch!
He looks all mighty [beasts of prey] in the face [without terror]; He is Monarch over all the sons of pride. [And now, Job, who are you who dares not arouse the unmastered crocodile, yet who dares resist Me, the beast’s Creator, to My face? Everything under the heavens is Mine; therefore, who can have a claim against God?] Job 41:34