The Caterpillar Project took flight Saturday, Aug. 4 at Crest View Senior Communities in Columbia Heights with the release of about 40 butterflies raised by seniors with the help of three college-aged young people.
The idea took root last year at the Minnesota State Fair. Kinsey Philips, a University of Minnesota student, worked in the butterfly house.
“People were mesmerized by metamorphosis,” Philips said. All ages stopped and enjoyed, which got Philips thinking.
Two fellow students, Thomas Paget and Jason Sakizadeh, joined her to form the Caterpillar Project. Crest View Senior Communities in Columbia Heights became their launching pad because of a connection to a staff person.
In July, caterpillars were given to Crest View residents, along with supplies, like milkweed. Every few days, the young people returned to freshen the cages and visit.
“Our vision is to bring joy to the residents. A little piece of nature to brighten their day,” Philips said. “Our focus is on getting to know residents. We chat about their experiences with butterflies.”
In between visits, the residents kept a close eye on the caterpillars. Together, the volunteers and the seniors moved the chrysalis to a large cage.
Betty, 92 years old, was raised in southwest Minnesota farm country, but she had never witnessed the life stages for a butterfly before this project.
The volunteers brought her two caterpillars in a container.
“I was very curious to see what would happen,” said Betty, who called herself a surrogate mother. “They went from being so tiny, about a half an inch, and within a couple days they grew into great big caterpillars. They ate a lot of milkweed. They just chomped at that stuff!”
She kept a watchful eye over the caterpillars and cocoons for several weeks. When it came time to release the butterflies, Betty had mixed emotions. “It was wonderful, but hard to see them go,” Betty said. “I’m wondering what’s going to happen to them. Some of them were reluctant to go out of the containers. Most were happy to fly out and go way up in the air.”
The butterflies were released in the Crest View parking lot.
Philips has graduated from the U of M. Paget and Sakizadeh are still in school. They will bring caterpillars to two locations in Woodbury in the coming weeks. She would like to see the Caterpillar Project grow next year. Philips has a goal of attaining nonprofit status. The volunteers put in their own money to cover some startup costs and received donations, like milkweed seeds from American Meadows and Save Our Pollinators, seed mix from Nature’s Seed, biodegradable seed starting pots from CowPots, soil from Gerten’s, compostable deli containers for cages from World Centric, cage supplies from Uline, and project t-shirts from Big Frog Customer T Shirts.
Crest View Senior Communities CEO Shirley Barnes hopes they’ll come back. “This has been a wonderful, inter-generational experience,” Barnes said. “There’s something magical about butterflies. We’re so grateful to Kinsey, Thomas and Jason for their generosity of time, talent and heart.”
More monarchs this summer?
Minnesota author and pollinator expert Heather Holm says there’s “anecdotal evidence” of an increase in monarchs this summer. That feeling is backed up by Cora Preston of the Monarch Joint Venture at the University of Minnesota’s Monarch Lab. “We won’t know until the monarchs migrate to Mexico and are counted,” she said. “It’s been great to see organizations such as Hennepin County encouraging people to plant pollinator gardens.”
If you’re interesting in citizen science – raising, tracking monarchs, providing habitat – check out monarchjointventure.org.
Below: Jason Sakizadeh and Kinsey Philips, with the Caterpillar Project, Crest View Senior Communities resident LeAnne, and her friend, Ann Dyellig from St. Paul, release a butterfly raised by the residents. LeAnne holds a container with one of about 40 butterflies ready to take flight. (Photos by Cynthia Sowden)