Nature lovers collect caterpillars and track butterflies

Spirit of the Bluegrass

(WDKY-TV-)- We are a nation of collectors. Some people like rare books. Others collect coins or stockpile stamps. Then, there’s Tracy Wells of Lexington.

She collects caterpillars.

“They are everywhere if you know where to look,” she said.

When she’s outdoors, no leaf goes unturned.

” Several years ago when Pokemon was really big, I was screaming at the TV,” Wells aid. “It’s not something you have to look at on your phone or iPad. Looking for caterpillars and insects is real-life Pokemon hunting.”

Not everyone is a fan of the worm-like creatures, but they feel differently when they see what they become. Plenty of people get all aflutter when they visit the state’s largest butterfly greenhouse at Wilson Nurseries in Frankfort.

“Throughout the course of the day, it’s work,” said owner Jennifer Wilson. “But sometimes, I walk in and just go ‘ahhhh. OK, this is really good.'”

She knows just hanging out in the greenhouse is a stress-reliever for many people, some who come there daily.

At any time in the summer and early fall, you could go to the greenhouse and be surrounded by as many as 1,500 butterflies. The nursey house up to 30 different native species, such as monarchs, swallowtails, buckeyes and painted ladies.

“The main thing is to get up close and personal with butterflies,” Wilson said.

It’s also educational, seeing how caterpillars go through the change and earn their wings in just a few days.

Maddie Milford, the nursery’s program director, said it’s the “coolest” job she’s ever had. “I’m learning all the time things that can’t be taught except by experience.”

One of the biggest wonders of the insect world is about to occur. The last generation of this year’s monarchs will soon be released. Just like birds they fly south for the winter, destined for the mountains of central Mexico.

“They travel thousands and thousands of miles to get to that one place that is the perfect environment for them to be in,” Wilson said.

Tracy Wells, for one, will miss them terribly.

“It is sad. At the end of the season, I’m looking forward to next spring when they return.”

She and other nature lovers will always provide a Kentucky home for very hungry caterpillars, and when they become monarchs, they’ll get the royal treatment.


The Butterfly Greenhouse at Wilson Nurseries will tag the monarchs on Oct. 4, 2020 with tiny stickers, that will help researchers track them to Mexico. You can sign up to be part of the release by clicking here.

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