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Park Perspectives: Monarchs and other butterflies

Published: Tuesday, May 20, 2014 11:13 p.m. CDT

Remember watching a plump caterpillar become a jade-green capsule, and transform into a beautiful monarch butterfly in your elementary school classroom?

The metamorphosis of this brilliantly colored butterfly through its four life stages – from egg, to larvae (caterpillar), to pupa (chrysalis) and into an adult butterfly – serves as a fantastic introduction to the natural world for little learners. But did you know this species takes flight for a magnificent migration across the nation each year?

It is awe-inspiring to think that the monarch butterfly, a species so small and humble, lays claim to one of nature’s greatest spectacles. Each year, millions of monarch butterflies embark on a marvelous migratory phenomenon from Canada and the U.S. to central Mexico’s forests. Their migration, the largest of any insect, can be up to 3,000 miles.

However, vanishing habitats, extreme weather and increased use of herbicides have significantly diminished monarch migration numbers. According to a report issued by the World Wildlife Fund-Telcel Alliance and the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve Office of the Mexican government, the monarch population in Mexico was the lowest recorded since 1993. A New York Times article finds that Mexico’s low of 60 million monarchs in 2012 had fallen to less than three million this past autumn. Some experts fear this great migration could be near collapse, the article states.

What can we do to save this magnificent migratory species? Planting milkweed in your garden can help. For the survival of their species, monarchs must lay their eggs on milkweed plants. Once hatched, monarch larvae eat milkweed leaves as their first meal. Milkweed eaten by the larvae builds into a poisonous defense system against predators. Planting milkweed invites butterflies to lay eggs and complete their life cycle’s first two stages in your backyard.

The Butterfly House at Peck Farm Park is home to more than 2,000 butterflies – including monarchs – each summer. More than 18,000 visitors will discover a pupa hatching cage, learn about the butterfly life cycle and be captivated by hundreds of butterflies fluttering from flower to flower – and maybe even onto their shoulder!

Join us at the Adopt a Butterfly Party from 3 to 5 p.m. Friday. Adopt a live butterfly before releasing it into its new summer home at the Butterfly House. Participants will receive an official adoption certificate and earn stamps in a passport on a scavenger hunt through the park and Hawks Hollow Nature Playground. Cost is $15 a person. Participants younger than 16 years of age must be accompanied by an adult. Space is limited. Early registration is recommended.

Peck Farm Park’s Butterfly House opens for its 2014 season Saturday.

It is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. Admission is a requested donation of $2 a person or $5 a family. These donations fund the daily operation and maintenance of the Butterfly House, providing homes for butterflies and opportunities for our community to interact with these fascinating insects.

Butterfly after-hours events from 6:30 to 8 p.m. June 7 and July 11 will allow participants of all ages to gain behind-the-scenes access to the Butterfly House and create a butterfly garden stake for just $5.

“On the Monarch Trail,” “Attracting Butterflies to Your Garden,” “Where Have all the Monarchs Gone?,” and other butterfly classes will take place later this summer.

Peck Farm Park is at 4038 Kaneville Road in Geneva. For information, call 630-232-4542 or visit www.genevaparks.org.

• Natalie Seidel is marketing coordinator for the Geneva Park District and can be reached at 630-232-4542. Email her at editorial@kcchronicle.com.

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