Butterflies Captivate Youth
Inside the Outdoors, August 13, 2010

While painting my fence, I happened to look over to the back yard of the new neighbors just behind me. What captured my interest right away was a bird house that hung maybe ten feet from the back of the property line. Then and there, I had the feeling that the occupants of the dwelling must love nature.

When part of the family motored up the alley and stopped to introduce themselves to me as Nizole Blaker and her two children, Brice Hoza and Sissy Blaker, I told them I was an outdoor writer for The Latrobe Bulletin. That started the ball rolling, apparently. Brice sprung out of the back seat, opened the door and was on his feet in no time. “You ought to write about monarch butterflies. And so the story begins.

“There are four facts that are most important to note,” the 11 year-old lad told me. “One, monarch butterflies travel from Pennsylvania to Mexico. It takes them a few days, but to us, it’s like walking around the world eleven times,” he pointed out. “Second, “After monarch butterflies are born and are ready to have babies, they lay their larva on the same milkweed plant they were born on,” he explained. Third, “The butterflies go to the volcanic highlands for the winter in Mexico, of course.” And fourth, “The monarch butterflies use the sun to find their way back home,” he concluded.

Needless to say, I was impressed. So, I did a little more investigation and here is what I found.

Accord to Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia website, these butterflies are found in New Zealand, Canary Islands and Western Europe as well. The monarch butterfly was named in honor of King William III of England.

Most nature buffs, such as Brice, know this creature to see it. “The upper side of the wings is tawny orange, the veins and margins are black, and in the margins are two series of small white spots. The fore wings also have a few orange spots near the tip. The underside is similar but the tip of the fore wing and hind wing are yellow-brown instead of tawny-orange and the white spots are larger,” the description given from the website.

Here are some additional facts to add from our young enthusiast.

“The monarch is the only butterfly that migrates both north and south as the birds do on a regular basis. But no single individual makes the entire round trip. Female monarchs deposit eggs for the next generation during these migrations. Monarch butterflies are one of the few insects capable of making Trans-Atlantic crossings. They are poisonous or distasteful to bird and mammals because of the presence of cardiac glycosides that are contained in milkweed consumed by the larva. During hibernation, monarch butterflies sometimes suffer losses because hungry birds pick through them looking for the butterflies with the least amount of poison, but in the process, killing those that they reject,” it revealed. Three birds mentioned were black-headed grosbeaks, orioles and jays.

“Some mice are also able to withstand large doses of poison,” the website disclosed. “Overtime, overwintering adults becomes less poisonous, thus making them more vulnerable to predators. In Mexico, about 14% of the overwintering monarchs are eaten by birds and mice.”

On the lighter side, “The monarch is the state insect of Alabama, Idaho, Illinois, Minnesota, Texas, Vermont and West Virginia,” it stated.

The Cape May Bird Observatory places plastic stickers on monarchs to be used for tracking. This way, distance and destination can be identified in the future.

When Brice isn’t eyeing the birdhouse to see what enters through the hole in the front of the small residence, or watching for butterflies as they fly behind his residence at 1637 Ridge Ave., his concentration now is in his garage waiting for a spider’s egg to hatch. Believe me when I tell you, this is one lad who is captivated by nature!

Brice is the son of Mr. and Mrs. Jonathan Blaker.

- Paul J. Volkmann
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