Monarch butterflies migration headed towards Mexico

Monarch butterflies migration from the John Ball Park Zoo to Mexico is for one family the culmination of a season of raising several generations of Monarch butterflies.

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    Monarch butterflies rest on the inside the tent walls where the Ward family raises them in Georgetown Township, Mich., on Sept. 10. After a recent release at John Ball Park Zoo, the Monarch migration is well on the way to Mexico.
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Dozens of monarch butterflies created an orange and black collage on the side of Holli and Dustin Ward's screened backyard tent, which acts as their summertime butterfly abode.

After a recent release at John Ball Park Zoo, the butterflies are well on their way to Mexico.

For the Wards, the release culminated a season of raising several generations of monarchs from egg to larva to pupa and finally to adult butterfly.

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The Wards and their children, Aiden Popour, 9, Ethan, 6, and Inara, 4, spent hours on care, turning the family's eight-year hobby into a business, Michigan Butterflies.

They sell educational kits at farm markets and craft sales, supply butterflies for release at events and offer consulting services. Outreach has included the release at the zoo and another release at Pinewood Elementary School in the Jenison district.

Aiden has named himself president of education sales, and Ethan is vice president. Dustin is chief innovator, and Holli is "The Butterfly Whisperer."

The endeavor has nearly taken over their Georgetown Township house. Caterpillar cages are in the kitchen, and a mini-tent in an upstairs bedroom is home to a rare white monarch.

"For the entire month of July and into August, we were spending three to four hours a day cleaning out the caterpillar pens, watering plants and (maintaining) the nectar stations," said Holli Ward, 34, who first worked with butterflies as a Grand Rapids Community College student with zoology professor Matthew Douglas, an expert in the field.

In 2002, the Wards began finding eggs on milkweed plants and provided habitats in ice cream buckets. The project grew as the insects multiplied.

"And we thought that was a lot of work," said Holli Ward, who has a degree in cell and molecular biology.

Dustin Ward, 34, surprised her with the tent for her birthday, providing space to start the business.

Part of the fun is just sharing the wonder of the butterflies, they said.

"What a neat experience it's been, because it seems so many people have butterfly stories," she said. People sometimes link butterflies to the memory of a loved one or are nostalgic about raising butterflies as children.

"Our kids enjoy it; we enjoy it," said Dustin Ward, an engineer at Magna, in Holland.

In the tent, Inara lifted a monarch for all to see.

"I just like carrying butterflies, and I like feeding them," Inara said.

The family is undertaking an unexpected project: Recently, two white monarchs, a male and female, emerged. They plan to breed the two, a project of interest to researchers.

"They are so rare, most experts in the field have never seen one," Holli Ward said. "You have a higher probability of winning the lottery than ever seeing a white monarch butterfly."

Future plans including adding two more tents and taking on college interns who would like to study the butterflies in a controlled environment.

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