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Butterfly release is highlight of Audubon Center’s Monarch Festival near Jamestown

JAMESTOWN – The Audubon Center and Sanctuary in Jamestown is preparing to hatch hundreds of Monarch butterflies this summer. The public is invited to the annual Monarch Festival and to the center to learn how to preserve and protect the butterflies.

Jeff Tome, senior naturalist at the sanctuary, has been collecting Monarch eggs and has set up classes to teach people how to raise the fragile eggs into adult butterflies. Tome’s classes began Thursday, but he can provide information about the process to visitors at the center.

Tome said that he is searching for milkweed plants where the female Monarch’s may lay up to 300 eggs.

“Unfortunately this year is very bad for the Monarchs,” he said.

He said last year’s drought left fewer plants for the butterflies to lay eggs or feed on. He estimated that about 86 percent of eggs hatch into the caterpillars that turn into the colorful butterflies.

Monarch butterflies with their orange and black wing pattern are among the most commonly recognized of butterflies in our region. Tome said that the species is one of hundreds that can be found in New York State. The Monarch butterflies from this region will stay until late summer and then begin their journey to Mexico, where they live in the mountainous region south of Mexico City. It is estimated that between 60 million and 1 billion of the butterflies will “hibernate” in the trees of the area during the winter months before they begin their journey back north, Tome said.

He said the Monarch butterfly is found in Canada and other regions of North America and is a special favorite of residents here. He said the butterflies are easy to catch as they like to land on wildflowers to “eat a snack.”

At the Monarch Festival on Aug. 31, visitors can watch as the butterflies are released into a room with many vases of cut wildflowers. The butterflies are caught by volunteers who then mark them with a small sticker that identifies them.

“One of the butterflies banded here was found 36 miles away in just one day,” Tome said of the information gathered by the identification process.

Tome will be encouraging visitors to the center to plant milkweed and a variety of wildflowers and plants that can feed the caterpillars. He said a growing caterpillar can eat a large milkweed leaf each day while it matures.

Ants, spiders and other insects are the natural predators of the butterfly, but they are not eaten by birds as the milkweed plant provides them with a poisonous substance that is fatal to vertebrate mammals, Tome said.

The pretty and colorful butterflies work as pollinators for plants as well as delighting humans. Tome said sample packages of seeds for both milkweed and wildflowers are available at the sanctuary so residents can plant them and encourage the Monarchs to visit their yards.

The sanctuary is located on Riverside Road, off Route 62, near Jamestown. Visitors are welcome every day. Families are encouraged to participate in a variety of activities about plants, animals and nature conservancy.