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The Shorewood Monarch Project has inspired Shorewood residents to raise and release 570 Monarch butterflies throughout the village. Wochit

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SHOREWOOD - A metamorphosis appears to be underway in Shorewood.

What started as display case of caterpillars and chrysalises at Shorewood Public Library has blossomed into a communitywide effort that has raised and released 570 monarch butterflies throughout the village.

For the past 10 years, youth services librarian Heide Piehler has been teaching library-goers about the metamorphosis of monarch butterflies through a display case that provides a front-row seat to the transformation of a caterpillar into a chrysalis into a butterfly. Twenty butterflies have been released from the display case this year.

Piehler said the display has encouraged people to start raising and releasing butterflies at home.

"It's been exciting to watch," she said. "There are some people who come in every day to see the progress of the caterpillars and butterflies."

Because only an estimated 10 percent of caterpillars will become butterflies, Piehler finds milkweed around the village and brings it into the display case so the small butterfly eggs on the plant can develop in a protected, controlled environment away from birds, aphids or other insects that might shorten their lifespan.

Monarch Project

Piehler, along with Shorewood Senior Resource Center Director Elizabeth Price, formed the Shorewood Monarch Project two years ago. Together, they have inspired dozens of families to raise and release 530 monarch butterflies this year alone.

Price has raised and released 106 butterflies this year, and she has given eggs and caterpillars to nine of her senior center members. Thanks to a number of monarch-related programs at the library and senior resource center, the hobby of raising and releasing monarchs has spread through Shorewood.

More: River Hills to create monarch butterfly gardens

Monarch maven

Nearly 300 of those butterflies have been raised by Shorewood resident Lindsay Maruszewski, who has all but transformed her dining room into a butterfly sanctuary.

Maruszewski's interest in butterflies started five years ago when her son found a caterpillar in their garden. After reading about the plight of the monarch, they decided to start raising and releasing monarchs.

"It started out as a fun science project with my son, but when we started doing reading, we couldn't not involve ourselves further," she said.

The Maruszewski family keeps anywhere from 80 to 100 caterpillars at any given time in five floor-to-ceiling shelving units. It takes her hours every day just to discard their feces and feed them new milkweed.

Maruszewski needs a healthy supply of milkweed to feed her caterpillars and breed new caterpillars. She said she has about 20 milkweed patches from Bayside to Bay View that she visits on a rotating basis, making sure she only takes one leaf per plant to keep the natural milkweed plants plentiful.

The Shorewood Monarch Project has also inspired newbies to join the monarch mania by giving away free milkweed twice a year at the Shorewood Farmers Market.

Katie Wick picked up her first milkweed plant at last year's farmers market. Using a mesh cylindrical butterfly tent in the middle of her dining room table, she raised and released five monarchs last year and 11 this year.

She said the project has been equally educational and entertaining for her 3- and 6-year-old children. She has since given branches of milkweed with monarch eggs to several friends and neighbors to spread the movement.

"It's a fun project to do with the kids," she said. "It's like a science project on your dining room table." 

More monarch measures

Although the Shorewood Monarch Project has raised monarch awareness through the schools, library and farmers market, Piehler and Price are also trying to make Shorewood itself more monarch-friendly.

The Shorewood Monarch Project worked with the village to have the Atwater Beach bluffs named a Monarch Waystation. The bluff already has milkweed and other pollinator-friendly plants maintained through organic, sustainable practices, so the waystation designation involved little more than paperwork.

Shorewood has also taken the National Wildlife Federation Mayors Monarch Pledge, which commits the village to creating sustainable habitats for monarchs.

Communities across the country have made efforts to increase the monarch butterfly population, which has decreased 90 percent in the last decade. The monarch has been impacted by severe weather, wildfires, and pesticides and herbicides — all of which have destroyed their habitat and milkweed, which they need to survive.

Without pollinators such as bees and butterflies, nearly 85 percent of the world's flower plants would disappear, according to the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Life. That means there would be no apples, pumpkins, blueberries or many other fruits and vegetables.

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