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Personal Pet Project

Girls Help Release Hundreds Of Monarch Butterflies

Cassy Lyon, Jessica Lyon and Addie Sturges have been collecting and releasing monarch butterflies for six years. The three girls were able to release two of the newly hatched butterflies during an interview last week from Panama. P-J photos by Carly Gould

PANAMA — Three young girls, cousins Cassy Lyon, Jessica Lyon and Addie Sturges, don’t remember why they started collecting caterpillars, but they do know they’ve been doing it for six years now in Panama.

“We had a patch of milkweed around here and they’d collect them,” said Darcy Lyon. “My husband would drive around and find more.”

The girls have managed to collect over 752 caterpillars this year and counting, and have released around 14 once they’re full-grown so far. Last year, the girls managed to help over 200 caterpillars become full-grown Monarch butterflies before releasing them.

“We thought that was good, but then we got 1,000 this year,” Addie said. “Even if we release 800 butterflies, that would be great.”

“They like to hide under milkweed,” Jessica said. “The bigger ones find bigger plants so they can just hang around until they’re ready.”

Addie holds a butterfly moments before it takes off. The particular butterfly was female, as one can see when looking closely at the bottom of the wings.

Asked how long it takes for a butterfly to dry its wings, the three girls promptly shouted “three hours.” They said it takes a day of hanging upside down before the caterpillar splits its skin and starts forming a chrysalis.

“We release them as soon as they’re flying around their cage,” Cassy added.

The girls are very passionate about their project, keeping their notes in a binder, and marking on a calendar when they release each butterfly. They keep track of every caterpillar they find, and they’ve done their research on the Monarch butterfly and its life cycle.

“We could write a book with all their findings,” Darcy said. “I try to take pictures when (the girls) are releasing them.”

The girls keep all their caterpillars in their parents’ business, Neil’s Propane. Though the adults do help them, the girls take responsibility in caring for the caterpillars. They had to get more cages as they kept finding more caterpillars, and they had to divide the cages because they had so many.

“The problem is that there will be so many that one of them will try to take a bite out of one of them,” Cassy said. “And they all crawl around on each other. One of them actually formed an upside down chrysalis.”

According to the cousins, a person can tell a boy caterpillar from a girl caterpillar from the dots on their back, and the girls have broader bands.

“You can tell if a butterfly is a boy or girl because the boys have two dots on their wings,” Jessica said.

“They say that if you can’t see the wings come out first, they may have a disease,” Addie added.

The girls are taking good care of their caterpillars, making sure they get plenty of food. All three girls expressed their disappointment that they didn’t get to go to Bird Tree & Garden Club’s Monarchpalooza! this year, but are excitedly waiting for the next time it comes around.

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