All photos courtesy of the Gericke family
LEFT: Although adult monarch butterflies feed on the nectar of many different flowers, the caterpillars feed exclusively on milkweed leaves. CENTER: Approximately two weeks after hatching, the caterpillar transforms into the green chrysalis. In another two weeks an adult monarch will emerge. RIGHT: In the wild the success rate for egg to butterfly is only 3 – 10%. The Gerickes raised and released 34 healthy butterflies at their home in Hot Springs over a two-month period.
By Marcus Heerdt
HOT SPRINGS - On July 25, 2021, Rich and Jackie Gericke were sipping coffee on the front porch of their home atop College Hill in Hot Springs.
“That’s when we saw a monarch fly into our garden and begin to lay eggs,” Jackie said.
Excited about seeing the monarch (Danaus plexippus) in their yard, the Gerickes quickly went inside to their computer and began researching ways to help the potentially endangered species of butterfly.
“We thought about putting a net around the plant to protect the eggs and caterpillars,” Rich said. “But we quickly learned that the best way to ensure their safety from the many dangers posed to them, and the other insects that prey on them, was to simply collect the eggs and feed the emerging caterpillars, protect them after they transformed into a chrysalis, and then release the full-grown butterfly at the most advantageous time.”
On Dec. 15, 2020, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that the monarch butterfly was “a candidate under the Endangered Species Act” and that the agency “will review its status annually until a listing decision is made.”
“The population of the monarch nationwide is dire,” Jackie explained. “Climate change, pesticide use, and loss of habitat in North America have all been making it difficult for it to survive. The butterfly is in trouble because of the lack of milkweed across the country because milkweed is the only plant that monarch caterpillars can eat.”
The Gerickes said that is why they decided to let milkweed grow in their garden, and at last, on that day in late July, a monarch fluttered into their garden.
“When we came into the house, we went down the rabbit hole of what to do and found the YouTube channel “MrLundScience” very helpful,” Jackie said. “We then went out to the garden to collect two to three monarch eggs and my husband eventually built a butterfly house.”
The Gerickes, who have lived in Hot Springs for 27 years, are lovers of nature and enjoy being outside together.
“Being in nature is a passion we share together,” Jackie said.
Rich grew up on an organic farm on Staten Island, N.Y., and Jackie first came to the Hot Springs area to work as an interpretive park ranger at Wind Cave National Park.
In 1996, the couple opened Earth Goods in downtown Hot Springs and recently retired from the business in 2020.
In two short months from July 25 to Sept. 12, the Gerickes raised a total of 34 monarch butterflies and set them free out into the world.
“In the wild, monarch butterfly caterpillars only have a 3 to 10% chance of making it into a butterfly, and we raised more than 30,” Jackie said.
Lucy Stanslaw, owner of Lucy and the Green Wolf who also co-manages the Black Hills Friends of Pollinators (BHFOP) group with Rajni Lerman, is excited about the Gericke’s progress.
According to BHFOP’s website, the organization “is an informal group of citizens living in the Black Hills of South Dakota interested in creating a healthy environment for pollinators to thrive.”
“I’d sure love for more people in the community to do this,” Stanslaw said. “Any support we can give this species is helping them. I found the Gerickes very inspirational in their efforts to support pollinators. They are so knowledgeable and it is great that they share their information online [on Facebook]. It is intriguing for both kids and adults and educational at the same time. I hope that more people will want to do it because the monarchs would benefit from their contribution. We hope their project will inspire others in the area to join next summer.”
“If you don’t have time to raise caterpillars, there are other ways to help,” Jackie said. “Plant milkweed for eggs and caterpillars to eat, don’t use insecticide in your garden, plant nectar-producing flowers for adult butterflies, and continue to take care of those flowers through early Autumn, as that is when the monarchs are migrating south and really need the sustenance.”
To see more pictures and videos of the Gerickes project, visit facebook.com/jackie.gericke.9.
BHFOP can be found on Facebook @BHFOP, online at blackhillssustainableliving.com/bhfop, or by calling 605-745-3415.