Goble shows multiple caterpillars on a leaf in one of her cages designed to keep them safe July 18, 2021. The caterpillars eat anywhere from fourteen to twenty before curving into a J and forming their cocoon.

Monarchs have a friend in Indiana

Monarchs have a friend in Indiana

Story and photos by Abbie Gressley, Indiana Wildlife Federation 2021 Summer Habitat Intern

When Amanda Goble first started raising monarch butterflies three years ago, she only knew there weren’t many in her area. Little did she know the process she loves so much would soon be making a larger impact on the monarch population.

“I realize it is a small part to help, but any small thing could make a big impact eventually,” says the 46-year-old from Marion, Indiana.

The eastern migratory population of monarch butterflies decreased by 84% between the winters of 1996–1997 and 2014–2015, and the much smaller western monarch population has declined 74% since the late 1990s, according to the Indiana Monarch Conservation Plan (IMCP).

The IMCP was influenced by those interested in monarch butterfly conservation and habitat restoration in an attempt to reverse the population decline of North American monarchs.

Goble says they had almost lost monarchs in the area due to chemical spraying for bugs on crops and people using them at their own homes without the pollinators. So, she planted milkweed seeds for the monarchs to lay eggs on and had her husband build screened in cages to protect the caterpillars and cocoons from other bugs.

“I have an abundance of praying mantis in my yard, and they will eat them, so this gives them a safe place to stay in hopes that they will make it to butterflies,” she says.

Goble starts her process in the spring to make sure the milkweed is growing and plant more if needed. In July, the monarchs start showing up for nectar and begin laying eggs on the plants. She then watches for caterpillars and takes them to the cages to finish growing. It takes about fourteen to twenty days for them to eat before creating a J with their bodies and forming a cocoon. The cocoon will hatch within seven to nine days.

“Finding the caterpillars and letting the butterflies go is about all the hands-on work you need to do, the rest they do on their own,” Goble says. “I try not to interfere with their process too much.”

Goble says she loves the whole process and only wishes to help them grow to adulthood.

“I think it’s fascinating how an egg the size of a pinhead can grow to a caterpillar then change into a butterfly out of a small cocoon,” she says. “Watching them fly away is my favorite part; I say goodbye to each one and wish them well on their journey.”

According to the IMCP, Indiana, along with other Midwestern states, comprises a particularly important portion of the range of the eastern population of monarch butterflies, supplying much of the breeding and migrating habitat that produces the migratory generation of the eastern monarch population.

Goble is one of many in Indiana playing a small role for a much bigger cause for these butterflies.

“I just let the butterflies fly away in hopes that they will live to make new caterpillars and butterflies,” she says. “I hope to continue to give the butterflies a chance to survive and keep coming back to our area.”