Monarchs are sometimes collected in their natural habitat so that they can be reared in captivity. A number of breeders want to help the endangered species by doing just that. Nevertheless, it’s not certain that this activity actually helps monarchs – on the contrary…
Intuitively, gathering eggs and caterpillars to raise them safe from predators and parasites seems like a good idea. Which is why, every summer, some lovers devote themselves to rearing them. On social networks there are even groups where people share tips and photos. Often it’s just a question of a few caterpillars, but some especially dedicated breeders collect eggs by the hundred.
Not such a good idea
Unfortunately, recent studies indicate that indoor rearing is no panacea. First, monarchs in captivity are in a situation of greater density, which increases the risk of disease transmission.
Next, researchers have demonstrated that reared monarchs are not suited to migration. In fact, the simple fact of having monarchs spend part of their lives indoors is sufficient to make them “lose sight of the south,” the direction they take in the fall to get to Mexico. Not to mention butterflies from commercial breeders, whose wings don’t have the right shape.
A hot topic
These studies have given rise to controversy in monarch rearing circles. Don Davis, a citizen scientist who’s been involved in the conservation of the species for decades, notes that certain monarchs that he raised and released himself in Ontario turned up in Mexico, identifiable by a numbered sticker affixed to a wing. Rearing, in other words, will not inhibit migration in all butterflies.
Moreover, having some monarchs in captivity can make for an excellent teaching tool in classrooms or museums. « When done responsibly and with proper training, rearing Monarch butterflies in an educational context can create deep and meaningful learning opportunities for people of all ages » said Vicky An, Program manager for the Monarch Teacher Network of Canada.
Effective conservation measures
Research is still needed to understand the effects of captive rearing on monarchs, but the fact remains that the solution for helping them is not to breed and then release them. “To make a difference, we have to protect and restore their habitats,” stresses Maxim Larrivée, head of the Insectarium’s collections and research division. “Citizens also help scientists move forward in their research by transmitting their observations to citizen science programs like Mission Monarch, which conservation efforts are based on.”