IO monarchs chrysalises

Monarch butterfly chrysalises are shown in various stages. The one on the right is about to emerge as an adult butterfly — there are orange wings inside.

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What is your connection to monarch butterflies? To many people, butterflies symbolize the common human experience of transformation and new beginnings.

Transformation is something we all experience. Here at the Homer Lake Interpretive Center, we raise monarch butterflies from egg to adult each summer so that visitors can learn more about their fascinating lifestyle and see the transformation for themselves.

From an egg the size of a dewdrop hatches a tiny caterpillar shorter than an eyelash. This little eating machine will eventually grow into a beautiful butterfly that may travel thousands of miles to another country and back.

It’s fascinating to see the caterpillars grow and exciting to wish the adult butterflies well when we release them.

At each stage, the caterpillar sheds it skin until the final skin sheds to reveal the green chrysalis underneath. About 11 days later, the orange wings become visible through the transparent chrysalis skin. The adult butterflies usually emerge in the morning — feel free to check with us to see if we might have one emerging soon and then come watch the new butterfly encounter the world for the first time.

Monarch butterflies connect us in many other ways as well. For instance, during World War II, U.S. civilians mobilized throughout the countryside to collect milkweed seed floss to stuff lifejackets in support of the war effort.

In addition, monarchs link two countries on their annual migration. Every fall, the monarch butterfly migrates from the U.S. to Mexico to overwinter in the cool mountains before heading back to the U.S. the next spring.

To learn more, be sure to check out our 2019 exhibit, “More Than Migration: Monarchs Bring Us Together.” And join us for our “More than Migration” program from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Sept. 19 to hear from individuals who have been to Mexico to witness the completion of this migration, learn more about the monarch life cycle, make a craft and more.

In the spirit of our connections with Mexico, the center will also feature a special exhibit throughout the month of September. This year’s exhibit is a Smithsonian poster exhibit entitled “Bittersweet Harvest: The Bracero Program 1942-1964,” about the guest worker program in the World War II era. It will also include an additional panel about local migrant workers today in Champaign County.

This poster exhibit is a moving bilingual exhibition that provides rich insight into Mexican American history and the historical background to today’s debates on guest worker programs.

These programs and exhibits are part of the Welcoming Week 2019 celebrations in Champaign County, in collaboration with the New American Welcome Center at the University YMCA. Welcoming Week is an annual national initiative that celebrates new Americans and their contributions to the social fabric of our country — embracing diversity and fostering community cohesion. Locally, it celebrates the 24,000 immigrants who call Champaign County home. Over 30 events are being planned throughout the community.

For more information about events and exhibits at the Homer Lake Interpretive Center, visit homerlakecenter.org, hlcenter@ccfpd.org or call 217-896-2455.

Pam Leiter is assistant director of the museum and education department at the Champaign County Forest Preserve District. She manages the Homer Lake Interpretive Center and oversees the environmental programming throughout the district.