Butterflies: Natives and Newcomers

Sep 26, 2013

One of the many signs that autumn is upon us is the annual migration of the Monarch butterfly.

This is the time of year when Monarch Butterflies make their improbable journey from as far north as Canada to the mountains of Mexico. In abundant years, it can look like an orange and black conga line in the sky, as the insects flutter by overhead.

"So maybe if you’re at a football game, you might look up instead of down and you’ll see a lot of butterflies going through the stadium in one direction. Those are migrating Monarchs," says Tom McAvoy,  a lab specialist in the entomology department at Virginia Tech, leads Butterfly Walks near the Hahn Horticultural garden every August.

 “And we’re not really sure how they know how to go south but it’s thought they could use stars or magnetism in their bodies, they might have small iron particles in their bodies that can help them tell the difference between north and south.”

Now some butterflies are getting a free ride to our area. The Science Museum of Western Virginal has more than a hundred and fifty tropical and exotic butterflies from all over the world in its new indoor butterfly garden.  The museum was granted permission to bring them here after passing a rigorous federal permitting process.  Visitors can interact with the natives and newcomers in a climate controlled rooftop enclosure with a view of the mountains and learn about the lifecycle of these compelling creatures.

“We do have a window where you can watch the chrysalis, or the cocoon if you will, you can watch that open and the butterflies emerge in that window. And then we release them into the flight area," says Jim Rollings, Executive Director.

He says you can’t catch the butterflies, but if one lands on you, that’s OK.  And while you’re allowed in, the museum must follow strict guidelines to ensure that no butterflies or larvae get out.