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It's inspiring to watch butterflies earn wings

They're no bigger than the head of a pin and are ignored by most who pass them by. They're secretly hidden on leaves where they won't get noticed. They are the greenish-white eggs of the monarch butterfly caterpillars that hold within them the miracle of the winged wonders they will become.

I have not always had an interest in insect eggs, bugs and crawling things. I come from a family of five sisters and the insect world did not hold a special interest for any of us. My hobbies as a child were more girl-like -- baking, sewing, reading and playing school.

When I grew up and became the mom of twins, things changed. Much of my children's childhood was spent in California and Texas, areas with extended growing seasons and a plethora of bugs. Peter and Jennifer enjoyed exploring nature, which was fine with me, as long as nature stayed outside.

When my son was 4 years old, he developed severe allergies to animals with fur. Sadly, our pet cats had to be placed in new homes, leaving a definite void in our lives. Still desiring to have a pet he could stroke and keep in his room, Peter brought home a caterpillar that he found in the neighborhood and begged to keep it. One thing led to another and before I knew it, I was housing jars of caterpillars in my kitchen.

We made many trips to the library to learn about the care and feeding of caterpillars and became knowledgeable about the different kinds of butterflies in our locale. Our overall favorite eventually became the Monarch, and we spent many summers hunting for the caterpillar eggs, collecting milkweed and watching them go through the stages of development -- egg, larva, chrysalis and finally earning their wings as butterflies.

As my children entered their own metamorphosis as teenagers, their interests turned to other things but I continued to be fascinated by the life cycle of butterflies. Every summer I would head out to local fields in search of the elusive Monarch eggs. Not easy to find, I would be thrilled if my search produced three or four eggs. I would carefully bring them home, along with a bag of milkweed, and check on their progress daily as they went through their transformative stages.

My husband now joins me on my caterpillar egg hunts and we've become more sophisticated in our searches. Each year we usually find two or three dozen eggs and often share our treasures with friends, young and old, who have become butterfly enthusiasts. When our grandchildren lived in the Buffalo area, we shared our love of our winged friends with them as well.

It has been 35 years since the first Monarch caterpillars entered my life, and I am just as fascinated now as I was when I watched them through the eyes of my children. I have observed butterflies emerging from the chrysalis stage many times over the years, but it still fills me with a sense of awe and wonder to witness this amazing metamorphosis.

In the past few weeks, I have collected 64 Monarch eggs -- a record for me. Some have been given away to welcoming homes but many now reside in their special jars in my kitchen, going through the magical transformation from egg to the distinctly beautifulorange-, black- and white-winged butterflies. It is always bittersweet to release them, but also a wonderful sight to watch their ascent into the outside world after weeks in their cozy homes in my kitchen. They earn their wings!

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Christine Kukla, who lives in Buffalo, is a retired second-grade teacher from the Buffalo Public Schools.