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Deep River resident Luann Cataudella has begun a campaign to give monarch butterfly eggs and caterpillars a safe start in life. (Photo courtesy of Tricia Taskey Modifica )
Recently emerged monarch butterflies are ready to be released in Deep River. (Photo courtesy of Tricia Taskey Modifica )
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October is spectacular in the Northeast, and not just of autumn colors, or because it’s time for pumpkin spice mania. It’s also the time of year when monarch butterflies take flight on their migration path to Mexico, with some starting their journey in Deep River thanks to Luann Cataudella.
The colorful orange and black butterflies are milkweed butterflies in the family Nymphalidae and Deep River resident Luann Cataudella is enamored with the creatures.
An emergency preparedness training manager at Eversource by day, Cataudella has found calm in her free time, tending to the caterpillars and eggs of the monarch. This new hobby came about this July when she was clearing milkweed from her yard and made a discovery on the leaves.
“I found little caterpillars on the milkweed and was fascinated. When I went back to check on them a few days later, I watched six caterpillars get eaten by assassin bugs and it was terrible,” Cataudella said. “I knew I had to do something to help, so I started doing some research.”
Cataudella learned that monarch caterpillars only eat milkweed, which is scarce these days because of urban development, herbicide-tolerant commercial crops, and heavy pesticide use. These factors and the monarch’s natural predators are why they are disappearing rapidly and their survival rate is just five percent.
“I started trying to save them this summer. I started with less than 10 caterpillars and so far, I have successfully released 283 monarch butterflies and I have 22 chrysalises left,” said Cataudella, who purchased butterfly enclosures to keep the caterpillars and eggs safe from their predators.
Once she recognized a need for rescuing, Cataudella scoured the roadsides in her immediate area looking for more caterpillars and eggs to rescue, as well as more milkweed to feed to the caterpillars.
Although there are 100 different varieties of milkweed in North America, here in Connecticut, there are five main perennial species of milkweed, which is the only food source monarch larvae and caterpillars eat and lay their eggs on.
Monarchs, which are considered an indicator species of the health of the environment, mate over the winter in Mexico and California, and in February begin their 2,500-mile journey north to Canada. It takes up to seven generations to get there, as each generation breeds and dies along the way.
“It’s very exciting to be able to play a small role in helping the monarchs in the area survive,” said Cataudella. “I just love caring for them. It’s peaceful and relaxing and I really enjoy it.”
Cataudella has already set up her yard for future generations of the colorful butterfly and has purposely planted several more milkweed plants. She explained that through her research she has learned that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is currently assessing the monarchs’ status to determine if the species’ declining population is severe enough to put them on the Endangered Species list. That decision is expected in December 2020.
In the meantime, Cataudella is anticipating staying busy saying goodbye to this year’s butterflies and getting ready for next year’s visitors. She said she’ll be here, ready to help them on their life’s journey, once again.
This story contains reporting by Tricia Taskey Modifica.
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