A Royal Celebration

Monarch Butterflies are one of the most recognized and least seen butterflies of the year. Their population is at the lowest it has been since scientists found their overwintering grounds in 1976. That has made it an especially tough challenge for the naturalists and volunteers at Audubon to find Monarch Butterfly eggs and caterpillars to raise for this year’s Monarch Butterfly Festival on Aug. 31.

The Monarch Butterfly Festival began in a year when Monarch Butterflies were incredibly easy to find. This year, staff and volunteers worked hard to find Monarch Butterflies. Sightings have been few and far between.

It has been funny, in a not so funny way, to watch the reaction to a Monarch Butterfly being seen. One sighting led to a day camp group re-routing their afternoon hike and finding 30 Monarch eggs to raise on a patch of milkweed far off the beaten path.

On another day, a random report of Monarch Butterfly sightings led to an hour long journey around Akeley and Scandia, Pa. There was much stopping and searching of milkweed plants along the way, and much odd staring from passing cars, but no monarch eggs were found.

It’s important to find the eggs and little caterpillars as soon as possible. Eighty-six out of every 100 Monarch Butterflies die before they become adults. The eggs are eaten by spiders and ants, bugs and beetles. Caterpillars are devoured by the same things.

There are even these bizarre little flies called “Tachinid Flies” that lay their eggs on the caterpillars. The fly larva hatch out and eat through the caterpillar’s flesh while the caterpillar lives. The flies don’t emerge and kill the caterpillar until the caterpillar is almost ready to transform itself.

In addition, there are a variety of viruses and other diseases that can infect and kill caterpillars.

This is why it is important to gather Monarch Butterfly eggs. The eggs are disease and pest free. Every egg that is raised guarantees a higher survivorship on the butterflies. In a time when the number of Monarch Butterflies is so low, every one that can be raised to adulthood can be significant.

The Monarch Butterfly Festival at Audubon will celebrate all things Monarch. There will be live butterflies flying around a room filled with wildflowers. There will be Mexican food served to celebrate the Monarch Butterfly’s amazing migration to Mexico. One woman will be tagging the butterflies with stickers to help scientists track the Monarch Butterflies migration.

Caterpillars of all sizes will be present, and you can hold the largest ones. Kids and adults can have their photos taken as a Monarch Butterfly or as a caterpillar. There will be also be crafts, a nature T-shirt sale to raise money for Audubon, and more.

Milkweed seeds and milkweed plants, the only food for Monarch Butterfly caterpillars, will be on sale to help provide more habitat throughout the area for Monarch Butterflies to lay their eggs. There will also be plants for sale that Monarch Butterflies prefer to feed from, such as Joe Pye Weed and Ironweed. These plants can provide an important food supply for migrating Monarch Butterflies.

Aerial insect nets can be borrowed at the festival to catch butterflies, grasshoppers and dragonflies. Entomologists (insect scientists) will be on hand to help identify the insects that are caught.

Of course, Audubon’s everyday beauty will also be available. The arboretum of native trees will be available to all. The butterfly and pollinator gardens will also be available for viewing as examples of how to plant for butterflies and other pollinators. Audubon’s live Bald Eagle, Liberty, will be available for viewing as well.

Monarchs may be having troubles across the country this year, but the Monarch Butterfly Festival will go on. This is due to dedicated group of staff and volunteers who are working hard to find and raise the Monarch Butterflies and release them back into the wild. It is helpful humans who are working hard to keep the Monarch Butterfly a part of our local natural heritage.

The Monarch Butterfly Festival will take place on Saturday, Aug. 31, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is $7 for adults and $5 for children and Friends of the Nature Center. The Monarch Butterfly Festival is sponsored by Phoenix Metal, United Refining Company, Herbs R 4 U, King’s Heating and Sheet Metal and Lena’s Pizza. If you are interested in sponsoring, please call Jeff Tome.

Jeff Tome is senior naturalist at Audubon and chief Monarch wrangler on staff.

Audubon is located at 1600 Riverside Road, just off Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. The center is open daily from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m., except Sunday when we open at 1 p.m. The trails are open from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. Please note this time change and look for details as to why on our website, jamestownaudubon.org or call 569-2345.