Back in May, I was honored to be chosen as one of 50 photographers selected WORLD WIDE to participate in Beauty Revived's 50 Most Beautiful Children Campaign. You may remember the BLOG POST I made about it, or one of several posts made on my FACEBOOK page. I received SO MANY nominations for the most AMAZING children. It was so difficult to choose just one... but there was *something* about Mollie's email about her son Max that just pulled me in. Thank you Mollie for sharing Max's story with me and allowing me to share it with the world.
Max is an amazing young man... he is changing this world.... one beautiful butterfly at a time.
Because no one is able to tell Max's sweet story the way his Mom can, I asked Miss Mollie to write out his story which you can read below. CLICK HERE to check out Max's blog post on Beauty Revived's website. To find out more about Beauty Revived, their mission or how you can be a part of upcoming campaigns CLICK HERE to visit their website.
Monarchs and Maxwell
by: Mollie Stiles
Atop the dining tables of most families are pretty dishes, candles, and maybe even fancy napkins. In our home it’s a bit different, ours is a nursery adorned with pop up baskets filled with growing monarch caterpillars. Max’s interest in monarch butterflies began as any other. We got out our vintage field guide and saw their gorgeous wings on the pages, flashes of orange and black symmetrical perfection. How do they grow? Where do they live? Do we have them in our yard? We ventured to a local nursery to see if we could find some milkweed, their host plant. Maybe we could watch the lifecycle? We brought home three little plants with a couple of caterpillars. Max watched them intently; his eyes peeled at the segmented specks the size of a pinhead. They moved through instars of growth. The pattern ever the same, munch and crunch, nap on leafy beds, then consume some more. The caterpillars grew literally two thousand times bigger before our very eyes. Before we knew it we were out of leaves. Eric Carle was spot on when he wrote The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
Suddenly, Monarchs were all through our yard, flitting and floating, laying eggs, and spreading joy. As the numbers of caterpillars in our care grew, so did our research. Max was on his iPad watching butterfly releases, life cycle videos, and learning how to determine their sex. With our first set of caterpillars now in chrysalises, Max counted down the days to their complete metamorphosis. It was simply a guess as to when this might take place, as we were novices.
Then it happened. We witnessed our first eclose, or butterfly emergence from its chrysalis. Pure Magic. Max was mesmerized. Tiny wet wings, a huge body, his first brush with the beauty of birth. Mother nature graced us with eighty-five perfect monarch butterflies in a row after that one. Max cared for them, awaited their wings being dry, and then gently sent them off with special wishes into the world. He often whispers, “Go make the world beautiful” to them as he sends them on their journey.
Like so often in nature, there was suddenly tragedy amongst our Eden of wings. One day Max came running, a sick butterfly! Its wings were dry, but bent and mangled. Then another! This butterfly too weak to pump its wings at all, its body shriveled and green. What could this be? We researched together while hoping for a simple solution.
In our quest, we came across a monarch researcher close to our home in Florida. Max insisted we call him. The gentleman provided his number on his website after all. He shared that he has been raising and rearing monarchs for years, and sadly knew exactly our problem. We were experiencing one of the saddest and most common afflictions of Monarchs, Ophryocistis elektroscirrha, commonly known as OE. It’s a parasite that ranges from causing monarchs to simply live shorter lives and be less hardy, to those that are heavily infected not even being strong enough to emerge from their chrysalises. We learned it has infected most of Florida’s butterflies at this point. Fortunately our sadness can be mitigated by at least providing help to future butterflies.
We began participating in the University of Georgia’s research, thanks to our friend the researcher. Max began sending them samples of our butterflies skin cells, and placing numbered lightweight tags on our monarchs at release to help aid in tracking migration. It has been an amazing experience to see our tagged butterflies come back and lay eggs in our own yard!
Just recently, Max was watering his milkweed when we found one of our tagged female monarchs laying in the base of the plant. We knew from the tag we had released her about 10 days prior, but she was back and hurt. She was missing most of two of her wings, two legs, and just utterly exhausted. We brought her in, gave her nectar, and worked quickly to see what we could do to help. We found that you can do wing transplants! We set up surgery with our contact cement, wings and legs of some of past butterflies, and delicately gave her back ability to fly!
Raising monarchs with Max is a blessing. While Max is simply working diligently to care for something he loves, he has no concept of the plight, or possible extinction of the monarch. This opportunity has taught us so much about nature, strength, faith, and beauty. Max whispers well wishes to our Monarchs as they take off into the blue sky, and my heart sings. Max is changing the face of beauty in our world one pair of fluttering wings at a time.