Local man has passion for monarchs

For Gerald Schaudt, a retired school teacher, raising monarch butterflies provides both delight and a sense of being a good steward of the earth.

“I enjoy doing this because the monarch population has decreased terribly,” he said.

He has been raising 10 chrysalises this season, keeping them in a wooden rearing cage in his home, then releasing the adult monarchs in his backyard.

“I took an entomology course up in the Iowa Lab in the 60s and I had to collect 500 insects and identify them with little labels, and that got me interested in catching different ones. It’s so much fun watching them hatch and develop,” he said.

Schaudt, a native of Slater, has 36 years of experience as an educator, and previously taught at Anson Junior High School. He grows milkweed plants in his front yard, closely monitoring the leaves for chew marks from larvae.

“I watch the larvae eat the leaves and when they get to be one inch to an inch and a half long, I put them in (the box) with some leaves for them to eat, and then when they get ready to go to the chrysalis, they crawl up the side and hook on to the screen,” he said. “You can see when they’re about ready to hatch because the chrysalis gets dark and you start to see the wings show through.”

An egg develops for about three to four days before it hatches and the larvae (caterpillar) eats for around two weeks before forming a chrysalis (pupa) for another 10-14 days. An adult monarch then lives for two to six weeks. However, fifth generation monarchs born in September/October, have a longer life span.

“This batch will go to Central America — the last fall batch,” he said.

Schaudt said he enjoys watching the adult monarch emerge and test out its wings for the first time.

“The butterfly hangs upside down from the chrysalis or a nearby surface to complete the emergence process,” according to Reiman Gardens at Iowa State University. “The wings appear folded or crinkled and the butterfly must begin the process of expanding and drying its wings before flight is possible. Meconium is pumped into the venation structures of the wing by wing movement and the help of gravity.

“Once the wings have fully expanded, the meconium will be pumped back into the body of the butterfly. The small amounts still in the veins of the wings will dry and harden giving the wings a more sturdy structure that will allow flight. It can take anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours for a butterfly’s wings to completely dry, this is usually varied according to size. After the wings have dried but before the butterfly will take its first flight it will dispel the excess meconium from its body.”

Schaudt said the benefit of raising monarchs indoors is to provide them special shelter for development.

“I’ve never seen a chrysalis on a milkweed here … there’s more protection having them inside,” he said.

When the butterfly is ready, he gently sets it outside atop a flower, then watches it fly away to parts unknown, wishing it well on its migration down south.

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Contact Sara Jordan-Heintz at 641-753-6611 or sjordan@timesrepublican.com