Skip to content
Maple Grove Family Lakeshore Restoration Project Feeds Monarch Butterflies

In the Aztec tradition, butterflies bring the souls of the dead back to life.

These lesser spirits were a bit of a rarity last summer in Lee and Carolyn Halbur’s milkweed gardens along Fish Lake in Maple Grove. It was a slow year for monarch butterflies, which the family has bred in prodigious numbers in past seasons.

“We were on track for our biggest year yet, but we lost a lot,” Carolyn said. “Some were slightly warped. It could have been smoke from wildfires in the West or pests or something else – who knows?”

For the past five years, the Halburs have tended to rust-colored butterflies with bold black stripes on their royal wings. The couple planted milkweed, the main food source for monarch butterflies, throughout their 0.4 acre property.

They collected butterfly eggs and larvae from under the leaves and brought them home for safety. Spiders, ants and beetles find monarch eggs and larvae delicious. Birds love caterpillars. Wasps bite the monarchs themselves.

When the eggs have hatched and it’s time to let the monarchs spread their wings and fly, they release the butterflies along the lake, making it a mini family festival. The Halburs’ monarch preservation efforts earned them a Star Tribune Beautiful Garden honor in the newspaper’s annual readership contest.

Passion of a convert

Their passion for butterflies grew out of their own appreciation of the environment and upbringing. About 20 years ago, they started a lakeshore restoration project to protect the shoreline of Fish Lake, where they have lived for 28 years.

Milkweeds are among the deep-rooted native plants they use for shoreline preservation. Carolyn, a fashion designer, carries more of the passion for the big lake where the family often spends happy hours on their pontoon boat and waterskis. Lee faints in front of the butterflies.

“It’s almost a spiritual experience to see the metamorphosis that takes place from that tiny speck of egg to the caterpillar pooping this beautiful monarch,” Lee said. “It’s a natural thing that’s hard to put into words. How do you measure the beauty of a sunrise or a sunset? What do you say in front of a large painting?”

Part of the reason Lee, a retired power salesman, has a passion for a new convert is because he had a negative view of their main sustenance, milkweed. He grew up on a farm in the town of Iona, in southwestern Minnesota. There, the milkweed was “like the devil,” he said. “We wanted to have more beans and corn. So that was something that had to be uprooted and destroyed.”

“Some people still feel that, unfortunately,” Carolyn said.

But all of that is changing. Monarchs are a charismatic species that migrate here and there without passports or visas. They call North and Central America their home and travel back and forth on a journey that remains a wonder. It takes at least four generations of monarchs to make the round trip.

The cycle begins with a brood in the oyamel fir forests of central Mexico, where they carpet the trees all winter. In the spring, this generation migrates to the southwestern United States, where they mate and die in places like Texas, New Mexico, and Louisiana. Their offspring travel north to Minnesota and Canada, breeding along the way.

Methuselah Generation

The last generation is born in mid to late summer. It is this brood that draws oohs and aahs from children and adults. These super monarchs, which some call the Methuselah generation because they are relatively long-lived, travel from Canada and the North Rim of the United States to Mexico’s Sierra Nevadas, the highest peaks in the country.

After this journey of up to 3,000 miles, they overwinter in Mexico and then return to Texas and Louisiana the following spring, starting the whole cycle over again.

At the end of last August, the Halburs got together with their grandchildren to free the few super monarchs they had raised. Granddaughters Nora Reckinger, 8, and Audrey Reckinger, 5, were all smiles as the couple opened the cages and let the butterflies fly.

One didn’t want to go, landing in the girls hair.

“Aah,” Carolyn adored.

Kathleen Pomerleau was also present that day. She and her husband, Rich, have been raising monarchs for years. They are, in fact, the ones who introduced the Halburs to the conservation effort and coached them.

The private lives of monarchs

Kathleen is a monarch expert, happy to talk about their private lives.

“Eggs are like pearls of ivory,” she said. These eggs are collected and later hatch into caterpillars. That’s when the fun begins. Each caterpillar can eat an entire leaf per day, excreting feces at the other end. The poop is collected on paper towels at the bottom of the cage. They grow exponentially through five instars, or intermolt stages, before climbing up and forming the letter “J”.

“Within 24 hours, they go from caterpillar to pupa, a little green pod,” Carolyn said. “In eight to 10 days, they break the pod and a butterfly emerges,” spreading its soft, moist wings.

It is this transformation that has pierced humans for generations. Once people experience it up close, they’re hooked, Lee said.

“It’s a natural thing that makes you believe there is life after death,” he said. “Watching this mush maggot transform into a magnificent monarch, you can’t help but know that we are more than just a body. We are a soul.”

But it’s not all spiritual wonder for the Halburs, who occasionally travel to Mexico, the winter residence of the monarchs.

“I probably see enough monarch butterflies during the regular season,” Lee said, “so if I go in the winter, it’s for the beaches and the beer.”

startribune Gt Itly

Not all news on the site expresses the point of view of the site, but we transmit this news automatically and translate it through programmatic technology on the site and not from a human editor.