The front line of the effort to save the monarch butterfly from extinction is the creation of monarch way stations where the insects can breed and feed.
Of the almost 5,000 way stations certified by Monarch Watch, which is based at the University of Kansas, Indiana has a little more than 200, including several in Lake and Porter counties. Some are in people’s yards; others are at parks and schools.
Phil and Karri Tempelman, of Munster, have a small area they naturalized in their garden with coneflowers, asters and, the most important plant for monarch procreation, milkweed. Karri Tempelman said they have about a dozen milkweed plants, but this year she found only one monarch egg under the leaves.
“My husband does native plants of the area, so anything native he’s tried to get,” Karri said. “We’ve had the way station for about five years, but we just registered with Monarch Watch last year. We get monarchs and tiger swallowtails. I teach first grade, so I took the egg to class and we watched it develop.”
Lee and Dolly Foster, of Hammond, raised monarchs for about three years before registering their home way station. At 2,500 square feet, it’s considered an extra large station that Dolly Foster said extends all the way around their house. Unlike most areas, she said their way station drew more monarchs than past years.
“I’ve always been interested in insects, so (the monarch way station) was a natural evolution,” Dolly said. “I think we got a lot more monarchs than in years past because I added Mexican sunflowers, Brazilian verbena and zinnias. We also had lot of milkweed, and I added tropical milkweed to make the garden more attractive, and it worked.”
She’s raised and released more than 200 monarchs each of the past two years, bringing home some eggs from the Oak Lawn Park District, where she works.
“Everybody who is raising monarchs is highly aware of the problems with the population, and any butterfly we can release is helping ensure the species will continue on.”
Having a good variety of blooming plants throughout the seasons didn’t help Karen Stein, of Lowell. She said she only saw half a dozen while in past years her small way station attracted several dozen. Stein blamed pesticides and loss of habitat.
Lee Botts, of Gary, has worked for the past few years to turn most of her yard into a natural prairie. Botts planted four different kinds of milkweed seeds for the monarchs. Despite that, she said she found fewer eggs and butterflies than in past years. Her neighbor reported seeing lots of them along the lakeshore during the migration, but Botts said even efforts to restore natural areas in Northwest Indiana haven’t helped bring more monarchs to her yard.
The youngsters at Elliott Elementary School in Munster created a way station as part of the school’s junior master gardening club. Joy McCullough, one of three master gardeners who work with the children, said the club meets Thursdays after school to learn about insects and plants and growing things.
“We started the way station because people use herbicides that are killing off the native plants,” McCullough said. “We tagged butterflies last year although it is a little difficult. You have to catch it in a net and hold it while you put the tag on it. We did three last year.”
The welcome mat is definitely out for monarchs in Northwest Indiana.