Original Published on Aug 08, 2022 at 17:10

By Brendan Burke, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Ennismore’s Ella Verner is doing her part to protect a vulnerable staple in  Canadian skies and one of nature’s most eye-catching treasures: the monarch  butterfly. 

Now classified as an endangered species — the International Union for the  Conservation of Nature recently added the butterfly’s North American population  to its “Red list” of species threatened with extinction — the 22-year-old has  made it her mission to raise and release hundreds of the orange-red-winged  creatures. 

Four summers ago, a family friend of Verner’s brought over a monarch  chrysalis that was just emerging into a butterfly. 

She was enchanted. 

From there, Verner — a volunteer firefighter in Selwyn Township and a student  at the Ontario College of Art and Design in Toronto — began combing a milkweed  garden near her home, carefully collecting eggs and small caterpillars. 

“The more I researched, the more I learned how fragile and endangered they  are. I learned that only 10 per cent survive in the wild, whereas I was seeing a  success rate of about 95 per cent if I helped them in my home,” she said. 

Verner has multiple enclosures in her home — each dedicated to different life  stages — that she uses to raise caterpillars into fully-grown butterflies. She  provides them with milkweed and natural light. 

Verner nurtures the would-be butterflies over a one-month period. The egg  stage lasts about five days; then tiny caterpillars grow some two inches over  the next two weeks before forming their chrysalis; their home for up to 14 days.  Then they’re ready to touch the sky as newly emerged monarchs. Verner places the  butterflies on wildflowers post-release. 

Verner, who works at Extendicare Lakefield, is doing more than just helping  her winged friends. Since early July, when monarch season began, she’s been  bringing caterpillars into the long-term care home to educate and engage  residents. 

“We’ve had a couple of lockdowns (due to COVID-19) and some residents have  been depressed. They needed something to look forward to. It’s been better than  I could have ever hoped. Some residents really, really love watching (the  caterpillars); spending hours just watching them,” Verner said. 

Some long-term care residents even have enclosures in their rooms where they  raise their own soon-to-be butterflies. 

Verner, the daughter of Peterborough Petes associate coach Andrew Verner,  said she’s been approached by staff and family members of residents looking to  raise their own caterpillars. 

“I’ve given about 75 caterpillars just this summer to people who want to  raise them with their kids or grandkids,” she said. 

So far, Verner has raised and released 350 monarchs. By the end of the  season, in September, she will have released another 200. 

“Especially this year, the ultimate goal has been raising awareness and  getting other people interested in it, and letting people know not to cut the  milkweed down. Some people think it’s an ugly eyesore, not realizing it’s the  monarch’s main food source, so they cut it down and it’s contributing to them  being an endangered species,” Verner said. 

She has no intention of slowing down. 

“I want to help raise as many as possible, keep getting people involved. I do  it every summer and I plan to for as long as I can,” Verner said. 

“It’s definitely rewarding. As an art student, I find this process and nature  as a huge inspiration for my own art. So I’ve been able to draw inspiration from  how beautiful the whole process is. Monarch chrysalis are absolutely beautiful  and it’s just cool to see the whole thing unfold.” 

Verner is encouraging others to learn more about the endangered monarch  butterfly and what they can do to protect the species. 

If anyone has questions or is interested in raising their own monarch  butterflies, they can visit Verner’s Instagram account @_umbrella_co or contact  her at ella.verner@ocadu.ca.

This item reprinted with permission from The Examiner, Peterborough, Ontario