One of the most incredible things to witness in nature is the metamorphosis of a humble caterpillar into a glorious butterfly. What’s been even more amazing to watch lately is the magical transformation of numerous Sunshine residents as they interact with the butterflies in their community gardens every day.
“We are having so much fun with our butterfly project,” said Debbie Whiteaker, Life Enrichment Director at Fountain Crest in Lehigh Acres, Florida. “I have never seen anything like this before and it is very fascinating to witness the residents’ faces when they see the final creation of the butterfly. It’s just priceless!”
It all started in February when resident Earla Milla brought in all kinds of plants for a designated garden area. Fountain Crest’s Dining Room Coordinator, Suzanne Ullemeyer, who has her own butterfly garden at home, realized that there were Monarch eggs among the plants, one of which was milkweed, a favorite food of both caterpillars and butterflies.
Suzanne conducted an educational seminar for residents on the butterfly’s life cycle and a few days later, they watched the eggs turn into caterpillars that began to feed on the milkweed. After eating all of the leaves and stems off of the plants, the caterpillars crawled to the top of the cage in the garden to start the chrysalis stage.
Each caterpillar wrapped itself in a silk-like fiber that little-by-little became a bright lime green cocoon. After about a week to ten days, each cocoon turned black and opaque, which meant that the caterpillar had become a butterfly and its wings were ready to come out. After the wings had dried, the butterflies were ready to fly off. However, the vast majority of them stayed in the garden to eat the milkweed and start the cycle all over again.
Ever since the project began, residents have been practically running out to the garden each day to see what has materialized. And when they’re not in the garden, many of them can be found on the computer researching information about the Monarchs.
“The whole place has come alive!” said resident Tom Palumbo with excitement. “I am really enjoying it! It’s magic!”
With growing numbers of butterflies throughout the spring, the community decided to begin releasing the Monarchs to help the population.
“I believe at this point we have released 25 butterflies,” Suzanne said. “It has been a great experience for me and all of the residents at Fountain Crest.”
Not surprisingly, Fountain Crest isn’t the only Sunshine community that’s going batty for butterflies. For example, The Gardens at Brook Ridge in Pharr, Texas also started a successful butterfly garden this year and plans to add an arch and more attracting flower beds to the surrounding area.
“Residents have mentioned that it’s very peaceful and calming when our beautiful butterflies are flying from plant to plant,” says Executive Director Santos Barrientos. “It’s so beautiful to watch our residents take a stroll down the trail.”
These days, all the craziness and hubbub in the world is enough to give anyone butterflies in their stomach. Thankfully, our residents are finding healthy ways to keep the butterflies free and floating where they belong.
*This blog was first published here: Sunshine Retirement Living, June, 2018.