Beautiful butterflies will be the focus of the day when Sharon Audubon Center holds a special celebration of these miraculous creatures on Saturday, September 14th from 9 AM-3 PM.
“This past winter we received grants to do a butterfly project,” said Wendy Miller, education program manager for the center. “We wanted to teach people about the importance of attracting butterflies and caterpillars. We’re trying to get people to put in plants to attract them and not tear out milkweeds.”
Milkweed is an important food for Monarch butterflies as it makes their bodies poisonous to predators.
The Audubon center is currently focusing on Monarchs and hopes to expand to Tiger Swallowtails, Black Swallowtails, Painted Ladies and Mourning Cloak butterflies. At present the center has seven Black Swallowtail caterpillars that have gone into the chrysalis stage. “We don’t know when they will emerge,” Miller said. “We wanted to start small and learn.”
Miller said that with the grants the center built two small greenhouses as a butterfly house as well as an area for rearing caterpillars. “We’ve got butterflies in there now and we’re starting on a native plant garden.” A special attraction is a big butterfly sculpture bench created by Izzy Fitch of Battle Hill Forge in Millerton NY working with his home-schooled students.
The butterfly house and caterpillar rearing unit will allow people to come and see native species, Miller said. The greenhouse structures have both butterflies in flight and the caterpillar lab, where caterpillars munch on plants and go into their chrysalis, which is a quiescent insect pupa stage for butterflies and moths.
Sharon has collected its own butterfly eggs. “When we originally started, we thought of buying butterflies from Florida but we were working with the state and they didn’t want us to do that—with good reason. There are a lot of diseases out there and we are able collect five Connecticut species from the wild. We were allowed to collect up to 20 individuals but they had to be from Litchfield County. We collected Monarchs caterpillars and raised them to butterflies.”
They also have to test to ensure that the insects are free from a parasite called Ophryocystis elektroscirrha (OE), a protozoan parasite that caterpillars ingest on milkweed. It's spread through microscopic spores coming off the wings and bodies of adult butterflies.
“OE spreads very quickly,” said Miller. “We have to test to make sure they are negative. All caterpillars, chrysalises and butterflies we have are from eggs we collected and we test for the parasite before they come into the flight house.”
The Monarch butterflies make a remarkable journey in the fall, flying some 3,000 miles south to Mexico where they breed and die. Subsequent generations will make their way back north, stopping to lay eggs along the way. “They don’t have a very long lifespan. The ones coming north stop and lay eggs, so there are different generations as they come north. When it gets this time of year, the generation born here, some instinct in them tells them to travel the whole way south. Don’t ask how that is—usually the Monarchs we see this time of year are the ones starting their migration.”
During the Butterfly Celebration, staff will take visitors through the houses and presenters will give 45-minute talks about such things as native butterflies, planting for butterflies, container planting and other related topics. There will be activities for the entire family.
Kicking off the event will be a presentation at 7PM Friday evening at the Litchfield Community Center by Dr. Douglas Pallamy on the importance of planting natives.
The schedule of events is:
• 10-10:40 AM - Yoga by the Pond
• 10-10:45 AM - Pollinator Bioblitz (Insect Catching and Common Butterfly ID)
• 10:45-11 AM - Acknowledgements & Butterfly House Ribbon Cutting Ceremony
• 11 AM-2:30 PM - Every Half Hour - Monarch Life Cycle Activity for Kids
• 11 AM-2:45 PM - On-going Activities which include;
Butterfly House Tours, Pollinator Garden Tours, Butterfly Presentations, Native Plant Sale, Butterfly Boutique (merchandise available for purchase), Kid Crafts and Activities, Games and Storybook Walk.
The Sharon Audubon Center consists of 1,147 acres of mostly forest and includes 11 miles of trails and two ponds. The main Visitor Center building houses a small hands-on natural history museum, the Audubon Nature Store and the Children's Adventure Center. The immediate grounds include Raptor Aviaries, the Herb Garden, the Eleanor Loft Bird & Butterfly Garden, and a working sugarhouse (formerly an ice house).