Airplanes in the Garden

Monarch Butterflies Take Flight
by Joan Z. Calder
Why I wrote the Book
AIRPLANES IN THE GARDEN: Monarch Butterflies Take Flight is a fictional story based on a real life event. As manager of the greenhouse in Biological Sciences at the University of California, Santa Barbara, I'd assist researchers with their projects and also grow plants for the biology classes. Milkweed plants, which are the host food for monarch butterflies, grew alongside the greenhouse. When the weather warmed, tiny caterpillars would appear on the plants. I fell in love with these little creatures and witnessed the great phenomenon called metamorphosis.

Every visitor to the greenhouse received a mini course in butterfly. They heard my spiel as I pointed to fat caterpillars chomping on milkweed leaves or tiny ones, so small you could almost not see them. Then I would search to provide my visitor a peek at a bright green chrysalis attached to the greenhouse glass or under a wooden bench. I explained how the caterpillar forms a J and then turns into a chrysalis. On occasion I proudly displayed a monarch in a black chrysalis ready to complete its metamorphosis. Often a monarch fluttered overhead to the delight of the visitor.

In spring of 2008, the caterpillars ate all the leaves on the milkweed plants and ten to fourteen days later, they would choose a place to enter the chrysalis stage. As more butterflies were born at the site, more mama butterflies came to lay their eggs. This created a lack of food for all the hungry mouths. I planted more milkweed plants to satisfy their insatiable appetites. Soon, there were about forty caterpillars and not enough milkweeds, so I decided to take some caterpillars home and grow milkweed in my back yard.

I got attached and began naming them. I named two of the caterpillars after my two lab assistants, Stanley and Sergio, and followed them all over my yard. They were so much fun! One day I watched Stanley going up and down the steps. I made a comment to my husband that I wish the caterpillars would come down near our patio to make their chrysalises; although I considered it too far for them to walk.

Incredibly, two days later my husband found a chrysalis under the table and, thus, AIRPLANES IN THE GARDEN: Monarch Butterflies Take Flight was born.

So this story is really about the little girl in me.

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