Photos & Text by Tamara, OFT Events & Community Outreach
Working on farms in rural Ontario, I’ve had the opportunity to see Common Milkweed and Monarch butterflies at all stages of their lifecycle and growth. Farm pastures (including a number of OFT Farmland Easement protected farms!) provide important habitat and feeding grounds for this remarkable, endangered1 butterfly, as well as unique places for them to form their chrysalises. It’s fairly common to see chrysalises attached to farm equipment or tucked into corners, such as this one I spotted in the summer of 2021 on a moveable chicken greenhouse.
Last summer, one corner of the pig barn where I was working became a popular gathering place for them. It started with a single chrysalis hanging on the gate with its beautiful characteristic gold band. Thankfully, the gate in the pig barn wasn’t yet needed, but with farrowing season and autumn weather approaching, I hoped the soon-to-be butterfly would transform quickly. I returned to the barn later in the day to find another caterpillar setting up shop. They were soon joined by a third.
Pigs, though well-known for being voracious eaters, do not like the taste of milkweed, and so the pasture directly beside the barn was full of it. To the monarch caterpillars, the nearby barn apparently looked like the ideal location for the next stage of their metamorphosis, offering protection from weather and from predators.
One by one, the chrysalises disappeared as their butterfly inhabitants emerged and headed south to Mexico. Eventually, there remained just a single chrysalis, almost clear and ready. Unfortunately, frosty nights were also approaching, a potential death sentence for the future Monarch. I headed off farm for a vacation for a week; when I returned, the chrysalis was exactly as it was when I left, apparently having lost the race against the winter weather.
Want to get involved in farmland protection? Read more about the protected farms on the “Protected Farms” tab on our website, or consider attending this year’s Farmland Forum in March. Registration is now open!
1. COSEWIC Assessment, listed on Government of Canada’s Species at Risk Public Registry. https://species-registry.canada.ca/index-en.html#/species/294-90