For the past several weeks I have had a sharp eye out for glimpses of monarch butterflies. It’s one of my September rituals born when I was a special education classroom teacher. A news segment from our local TV station put me on high alert after showing thousands of them hanging in trees on the southern shore of Lake Erie. Each of the last several days, I have spotted several in the air and looked at them once again in amazement.
Another teacher with a biology background educated me about these particular butterflies. I learned where they reproduced in the late summer, what they ate, and the long impressive flight each makes from Canada, throughout the upper Midwest, northeastern U.S., and even extending along the east coast into Florida until they reach Mexican mountainsides.
As a result of what I learned from my colleague, each September I searched along the roadside areas for a patch of milkweed plants. It was there I hoped to find at least one plant where I discovered the female monarch had laid her eggs, which would result in the emergence of the striking striped caterpillar. For a number of years, I was able to locate both the distinctive striped caterpillar and a pupa and brought them into a terrarium in my classroom. The caterpillar would then eat away at milkweed leaves and stems that I asked my students to bring.
The excitement would build as the developed caterpillar stopped eating and located a perch where it would spin a stunning light turquoise pupa with small touches of gold accenting a ridge near the top. Day-by-day the students were mesmerized as they watched for two weeks until the pupa began to become translucent and then transparent showing the colors of the monarch. Slowly, cracks began to appear in the pupa and the butterfly began to emerge pumping body fluid into its limp wings. Very gently, I would place my finger next to the butterfly and it would step onto my finger. Then carefully I would transfer the butterfly to the finger of a student.
The student would move slowly down the hall past open doors of curious onlookers until our whole class reached the playground where we watched and waited for our monarch to take flight. What a moment for my students and also for me!
Several other things I shared with my students that increased their wonder included how the released butterfly would fly to Mexico even though it had never been there before and would face many dangers along the way. There the many butterflies would hang in the trees of Mexico in a semi-dormant state until early summer when they would return to their homes in the north and the cycle would repeat.
Every detail of this creature is unique. The milkweed plant it uses for food is poisonous to any other creature that eats it; but once the butterfly is created in its lovely teal pupa and emerges to fly, it will only live on the sweet nectar of flowers. The poisonous substance of the milkweed it used, as nourishment will serve as part of its protection as a butterfly since anything that seeks to eat or attack it will die from the poisonous residue
What impacts me is how much detail our Creator puts into this one butterfly species!
Should we also remember He has shown us that much care in our creation? Before we knew Him for who He is, we too have eaten of many poisonous things, but when He transforms us as His own child He invites us to taste and see how good He is and sends us into the world (even as He sends the monarch) so we might glorify Him. Like the butterfly, He will show us the path if we will listen and He will also use those things sent to destroy us to give testimony to His goodness and greatness.
Monarch butterflies. What a wonder! What a gift! What a Creator!