The monarch butterflies came to life in their pocket-sized, see-through sachets, their tiny movements at first nearly imperceptible.
But there was no doubt the monarchs, whose numbers have greatly declined, were ready for release to celebrate what would have been Codi McCann's 27th birthday in front of the small home he once owned on Glenwood Avenue.
On a freezing cold night on Dec. 6, 2016, McCann, 22, was shot dead about 10 p.m. sitting inside a friend's red 1999 Pontiac Grand Am parked in an alley behind State Bar & Grill on East State Boulevard.
It was a loss his mother, Stacey Davis, will never forget as she rushed to the scene, but she wasn't allowed to see him or touch him as police kept the crime scene intact.
In the nearly five years that have elapsed, Davis has made it her mission to aid mothers and family members going through this suffering and has attended many balloon releases and vigils.
As a founding member of Justice Accountability Victim Advocacy, more commonly known as JAVA, she thought it might be time to find an alternative to the traditional balloon or lantern release, considering the environmental impacts and growing criticism of the balloon debris.
Online, Davis found Mr. Butterflies in West Palm Beach, Florida, and ordered 27 monarchs, careful to follow directions. Owner Susan, who asked that her last name not be used for privacy reasons, said the outdoor temperature has to be at least 60 degrees for the butterflies to fly.
“As soon as you've got nectaring plants, you're good to go,” Susan said. Butterflies, shipped the day before the release, are under the control of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“They are very strict about what butterflies are released where,” she said.
Butterfly releases were popular before the pandemic, which affected business greatly. Now that life has returned to normal, it's produced a pent-up demand, Susan said, and there are times when she's sold out. The releases are popular for weddings, funerals and commemorations.
Saturday, Davis passed around the small envelopes to the 20 or so friends and family there and, together, they opened them. Monarchs fluttered up and away, then hovered nearby, letting humans come close.
One nearly alighted on Davis.
Guests rushed to take photos of the butterflies, trying to keep up with them as they danced from tree to bush.
“I thought it was beautiful,” Davis said. “To me, it was emotional singing 'happy birthday.' It's hard for me to do it without smashing his face in the cake,” she joked.
Her mother, Sherrie Flaig, found the release enchanting.
“I thought it was amazing,” Flaig said as she watched the butterflies get accustomed to their surroundings, which included a large maple tree and several rose of Sharon bushes in bloom. “Better than balloon releases, because it's nature.”
Lynsee Davis, Codi's older sister, appreciated the environmental aspect of the release and thought Codi would approve.
“I honestly see Codi loving this,” Lynsee Davis said. “He was so full of life and having living creatures symbolize his birth would be exactly what he wanted.”
Stacey Davis liked the butterflies so much she's considering raising them herself for JAVA families.
She paid $250 for the butterflies, more expensive than the estimated $100 cost of 27 balloons.
“I'm trying to figure out how to grow butterflies in the future,” she said.
On its website, the National Park Service calls the monarch butterfly, one of the world's pollinators, a contributor to the health of the planet.
“While feeding on nectar, they pollinate many types of wildflowers. The flowers they choose are varieties that are brightly colored, grow in clusters, stay open during the day, and have flat surfaces that serve as landing pads for their tiny guests. Monarch butterflies are also an important food source for birds, small animals, and other insects,” according to the website.
However, the monarch butterfly is not yet on the list of endangered or threatened creatures, according to a December 2020 announcement from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, although the website did say the listing is “warranted. The monarch is now a candidate under the Endangered Species Act; we will review its status annually until a listing decision is made.”
Each year, the monarch travels 3,000 miles from Canada through the Midwest to Mexico. The nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund has made the survival of the monarch butterfly one of most important campaigns.
“Over the past two decades, the population of monarch butterflies has plummeted, bringing the butterfly dangerously close to extinction,” it says on its website. “A key factor in the monarch's demise is the loss of milkweed habitat across the U.S., particularly in the Midwest.” Herbicides, the destruction of habitat on roadsides, ditches, cemeteries and cornfields contributes to the decline along with climate change.
Locally, the Eagle Marsh Nature Preserve holds a Monarch Festival each year. This year it's scheduled for Sept. 12, according to Betsy Yankowiak, director of preserves and programs at Little River Wetlands Project at Eagle Marsh.
“We give you free milkweed,” Yankowiak said.
Monarch tagging will take place, tracking the monarchs to Mexico. A Monarch Watch has been ongoing since July 1 at Eagle Marsh conducted by two dozen volunteers through mid-September who search for monarch eggs, caterpillars and adult butterflies. We turn in that data to the University of Minnesota,” Yankowiak said
For more information click on lrwp.org