Some creepy-crawlies aren't that creepy.
Saturday marked the seventh Audubon Monarch Butterfly Festival. Monarch butterflies have a reputation as the fairest species in the insect world. As such, they have many admirers. Self-proclaimed "monarch mommy" Barbara Case, is one of them. Case has been "tagging" monarchs for 20 years. Tagging a monarch allows the tagger to track its migration path.
"Basically what we do is tag the monarchs for the University of Kansas Monarch Watch," she said. "[The festival] started out as just me doing a tagging display for migration, and we had about 40 people. Each year the number doubles."
Above, 2-year-old Isabella Sorrento makes a new winged friend. Visitors were allowed to handle and photograph the insects.
P-J photos by Nicholena Moon
Last year, the festival had about 600 insect enthusiasts. Throughout the day visitors were able to view the entire life cycle of the butterfly, from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to adult. The Audubon's auditorium was filled with roaming butterflies, alighting on cut flowers or visitors outstretched arms. The festival also included Mexican food, crafts, a butterfly plant sale and butterfly nets to borrow. Additionally, a special monarch T-shirt sale raised money for Audubon's educational programs.
But where do butterflies go when they leave Jamestown? This is one of the questions the Monarch Watch helps to answer. Two of Case's tagged monarchs that have been found settled in Mexico.
"They winter over in Mexico, out in the mountains, then in the spring they start flying back north," said Case.
The butterflies spend the winter months there. Typically, monarch butterflies only live about four to six weeks. However, during this state which is similar to hibernation, they can live for eight or nine months.
"Then it takes about 3 or 4 generations to get back to us," said Case.
Monarch migration is somewhat of a mystery to enthusiasts.
"Why monarchs migrate, we don't really know," said Case. "Most butterflies don't, but it's just something monarchs do. It's built into their biology."
The tagging experiment was started by a professor in Toronto to give a rough idea of how long it takes monarchs to get from one point to another, and where they actually end up.
"Originally we didn't know where they went to," explained Case. "We've learned that they go to a particular sanctuary."
Volunteers in the Monarch Watch sometimes vacation to Mexico to look for the tagged insects. Otherwise, the Watch gives $5 to anyone who turns in a tagged butterfly. However, the forests the creatures live in have been routinely devastated over the last few years.
"It's a struggle to keep enough butterflies down there," lamented Case. "Monarch numbers are dropping."
The other goal of the festival is to raise awareness for the plight of the butterflies. Case explained what people can do in their own yards: plant nectar flowers and milkweed, which is the monarchs' food of choice, and avoid using pesticides in their gardens.
"If they feel like it they can raise some," said Case. "In the wild, only about 4 percent of the eggs that are laid actually mature into butterflies."