Tampa Electric’s Manatee Viewing Center has long been a place where monarchs thrive. And while human royalty is certainly welcome at our showcase for environmental education in Apollo Beach, this is about monarch butterflies. More specifically, it’s about the critical help that the center – and just about anyone, including you – can give them.
An initiative by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service encourages people to plant milkweed in their yards to combat the decline in the monarch butterfly population. Milkweed happens to be the only plant on which the monarch butterfly lays its eggs. Once those eggs hatch, the milkweed is the only plant monarch caterpillars eat as they grow, build their cocoons and then emerge as the magnificent insects treasured for their beauty.
At the Manatee Viewing Center, visitors can see this cycle play out up close.
“We find the caterpillars and place them in the display along with lots of milkweed plants that serve as their food,” said Jamie Woodlee, senior environmental technician with Environmental, Health & Safety. “The caterpillar is fully grown in about two weeks. It then attaches itself to the plants or the actual display case where it begins transforming into a chrysalis. It stays in the chrysalis stage for about 10 days where it transforms into a beautiful butterfly. Once the butterfly emerges we release it into the gardens.”
She added, “It’s really educational and a lot of fun for our visitors.”
Even better: Almost anyone can plant milkweed in their yards, or even just keep the plants in pots outside. In addition to the bright color their flowers bring to any landscape, the plants – especially with varieties native to their states – require little care. The Monarch Joint Venture campaign even offers this guidance to help you find milkweed seeds native to your area.
Along with the environmental education and research coming out of the Manatee Viewing Center and the growing Florida Conservation & Technology Center, support for the milkweed effort is one more way Tampa Electric’s environmental commitment extends from the company into the community.
“Now is the ideal time to plant milkweed in your yard,” Woodlee said. “Do it for the butterflies. You won’t regret it!”
Tampa Electric’s Manatee Viewing Center is open to the public through April 15.