You can find so much more than books at your local library. Obviously, books are the main attraction, but, from time to time, there are special displays and hands-on activities that attract attention, as well.
This summer at the Green Bank Library, there was a small display in the children’s section consisting of two mason jars with sticks and leaves inside. Upon closer inspection, visitors got an up close and personal look at caterpillars and chrysalises of monarch butterflies.
The library is surrounded by milkweed plants, which are the main source of nutrition for monarch caterpillars, so it was easy for librarian Hallie Herold to scoop up a few for the display.
Herold grew up raising butterflies and remembers having a special cage for the caterpillars to be safe in while they made the transition into butterflies.
“There was one time that my aunt Betty Jo was bringing me home, and I had my cage on my lap,” she said. “One turned into the chrysalis in front of me, so she stopped at The Pocahontas Times office to have them take a picture of me with my chrysalis.”
Herold said she had stopped raising butterflies – until last year, when she found a pickle jar with a caterpillar in it. Someone had dropped one off to her while she was on vacation, and she enjoyed getting back into monitoring the metamorphosis so much that she decided to do it at the library this summer.
“There were several out here, and I thought it would be fun,” she said.
Herold added that she has a strict “Do not touch” rule for the library’s milkweed plants because she wants to make sure the caterpillars have plenty to snack on each year.
It was timely that Herold chose to help the caterpillars this summer because it was in July when the monarch butterfly was classified as endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species.
“I know there’s so much more that is going on, on a much bigger scale, so I can’t say I’m saving the butterflies, but I like to help as many as I can,” Herold said.
Along with the four butterflies she helped at the library, Herold also helped relocate 30 caterpillars from a field where her brother, Sam, has cattle.
“My older brother does rotational grazing with his cattle and he let me know that he was about to move them to an area where there was a bunch of milkweed,” she said. “I relocated them to other milkweed that was away from the cows, so they would hopefully have a better chance.”
Usually, when she raised butterflies, Herold did so by collecting caterpillars, but this year, she was able to start from the very beginning.
“This time, I actually had one from egg,” she said. “I had never done that before. I was outside and I saw a butterfly come to some of the short milkweed where it gets mowed and I watched her lay eggs. I didn’t want it to get mowed down, so I brought them in, and looked up how to best keep the eggs.
“You don’t really have to do anything,” she continued. “They just do their thing. I had two that hatched from eggs, and they were the tiniest things I had ever seen. I didn’t imagine they would be so small.”
In the display with the Mason jars, Herold had several books about monarch butterflies which were often checked out this summer by interested visitors. Herold also did research into monarch butterflies and found some intriguing facts she shared.
“It’s fascinating that they’ve been studied so much and we still don’t know how they know what to do,” she said. “I read an article once that talked about how scientists tracked the path of the monarch butterfly [during their migration]. They do their migration over some large body of water – they all turn and they go around something – but there’s nothing there. So, geographically, they found that hundreds of thousands or millions of years ago, there was a mountain there and they had to fly around it. It’s not there anymore, but they still fly around. I just love that.”
Monarch butterflies make a one-way trip during their migration and the offspring they leave behind will do the same when they mature. The lifecycle is ingrained in their DNA and they automatically know the path they must take.
The season of raising butterflies is over for this year, but Herold said she hopes to continue to help the caterpillars she finds at the library.
Those interested in doing the same can help by growing milkweed in their gardens and making sure there is plenty for the caterpillars to eat so they can make a chrysalis and emerge a monarch.