White Monarch butterflies being raised in Spring Mills
By ROSE FRANKLIN
For The Express
SPRING MILLS — When 15 white Monarchs appeared among the butterflies being raised at our butterfly farm last September, and then some of our customers reported finding white Monarchs among the butterflies they had reared from caterpillars obtained from our butterfly farm, I knew we had been blessed with a very special gift.
White Monarchs aren’t really “white”. They are light peachy-gray in all the areas that are typically orange. Their eyes aren’t black like most Monarchs either but instead, magenta pink. Few people have ever seen a white Monarch. Most don’t even know they exist.
I posted photos of our white Monarchs on my Facebook page shortly after the first one emerged on September 4. People started asking questions. How did I create these unique butterflies? Were the females that laid the eggs white or orange? Do the caterpillars of white Monarchs look any different than those of an orange Monarch? Why are their eyes magenta in color when other Monarchs have pure black eyes? Are they albino? Just how rare are they?
Most of these were questions that I didn’t know the answers to. I reached out to Dr. Orley “Chip” Taylor, founder and director of Kansas University’s Monarch Watch, a well-known outreach program which focuses on education, research, and conservation relative to Monarch butterflies. Chip has been studying Monarchs exclusively for over 25 years and is a leader in the scientific study of Monarchs.
Until 2015, Chip himself had never seen a white Monarch. Then he noticed two white Monarchs among the butterflies that his entomology students were raising. Fortunately one was a male and the other a female. With this pair, Chip tried, but failed, in attempting to maintain a colony of white Monarchs.
Dr. Taylor explained that the “whites” don’t fit the typical definition of “albino”. They have melanin pigments. Albinos don’t. They are homozygous for a recessive gene, and that’s the only thing they have in common with albinos. He said that in nature one white Monarch might appear in every ten million Monarchs.
Homozygous recessive genes? I was lost. I haven’t a clue as to what Chip was saying in reference to genetics, but I did understand quite well how rare white Monarchs are: one in many millions. Wow!
Around mid September, I received a phone call from Ryan Bridge, well known as The Bugman, who resides in York County, PA. He’d heard about our white Monarchs and he wanted to see them. The next evening, he was here, in awe, as he gazed at what he called “a miraculous, once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
Last September, I was wishing this miraculous occurrence would have happened in July rather than in September, when all of the native milkweed was yellowing and dropping their leaves in preparation for winter dormancy. With no milkweed, you can’t raise Monarchs. That’s the only plant that Monarch larvae will eat.
I didn’t want my once-in a lifetime experience to end so soon though. Andy, my husband, and I started digging up Tropical Milkweed plants from our gardens. This was the only milkweed species that was still lush and green in September. We planted milkweed seeds, took cuttings, and decided to give our best shot at keeping the “whites” alive through the winter.
Well, it’s May, and we have been raising white Monarchs for eight months! They are still alive, still healthy, and still beautiful and unique.
We will have some of our white Monarchs on display for all to see on the Friday, Saturday, and Sunday before Memorial Day, during our Open House. If you’d like to see live white Monarchs and are able to attend our Open House, please visit the home page of our web site, www.ButterflyBushes.com, for hours and driving directions to our perennial and butterfly nursery.
Rose Franklin is the proprietor of Butterfly Bushes.com and Monarchs-And-Milkweed.com, where hummingbird and butterfly attracting plants and Monarch eggs and caterpillars are offered to those who reside in the eastern half of the U.S. She is a member of the International Butterfly Breeders Society, the International Plant Propagators Society, and the Association for Butterflies.