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Heart of Louisiana: Journey of the butterfly

(Source: Dave McNamara) (Source: Dave McNamara)

If you've seen a few monarch butterflies near your home lately, it may be related to their annual migration. And you can increase your chances of seeing them with a little planting, as some New Orleans area school kids are discovering with the help of “The Bug Lady."

Payne Espenan and other students at teachers at Holy Cross High School in New Orleans created this butterfly garden a few weeks ago. And already, monarch caterpillars are crawling over the new plants. And on a nearby railing, there is a dangling chrysalis that will yield another butterfly.

"I always thought that they were just caterpillars, they ate a lot and they kind of just pubated into butterflies," Espenean said. But now I really just know that there's a whole lot more science behind it than what i just originally thought."

Master Gardener Roma Gibson-King points out their native plants. And the students point out something a little more special, their very first monarch caterpillar. Gibson-King pointed out another monarch.

Gibson-King helped the students create this butterfly garden.

"I want the kids to understand how wonderful it is to garden, how insects are, many of them, very good and very helpful for us," she said.

"I wanted really a younger grade to be a part of this so they could really see an action, the development of caterpillars and a metamorphosis into butterflies," St. Agnes High principal said.

These gardens are the brainchild of Linda Auld who runs a pest control company and has been raising monarch butterflies for the past 39 years.

"I sell death for pests but promote life for the rest," Auld said. She is "The Bug Lady."

Auld's shop is crowded with plants and the caterpillars that thrive on them - like these monarchs, the black swallowtail caterpillar, the scary-looking, but harmless gulf fritillary caterpillar, and the spicebush swallowtail caterpillar. These caterpillars will eventually form a chrysalis. And a few weeks later, there is an amazing metamorphosis.

We have successfully installed gardens in 16 schools and it's been by word-of-mouth," Auld said. "I have written a twelve-week lesson plan where the children will study the twelve insects that go to the milkweed plant. It's an ecosystem all in itself."

Attracting butterflies to your backyard is really pretty simple. All you have to know is what they like to eat. You plant it, and they will come.

"If you plant the milkweed they will find you and you will enjoy the experience," Auld said.

A day after this butterfly emerged from its chrysalis, it gets a tiny stick-on tag before being released.

"When we tag butterflies there is a little bit of recording that we have to do," Auld said.

The information goes into an online database where scientists can track the migration of monarchs between Canada and Mexico. And gardens like these provide a tiny bit of extra habitat to give the monarchs a helping hand on their long journey.

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