What good is a butterfly exhibit?

March 14, 2020

What good is a butterfly exhibit?

Watson Country Outdoor Report.

By Joan Young, MCP/OCP outdoors writer.

The Watson Country Outdoor Report is a presentation of the Watson Auto Group, selling Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Fiat in Ludington, Manistee, Benzie and Rockford. “Every season there’s a reason to visit Watson Country. For more information, visit watsoncountry.com.

Editor’s Note: The annual Fred & Dorothy Fichter Butterflies Are Blooming exhibit at Frederick Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids began on March 1 and is scheduled to continue until April 30. Unfortunately, Frederick Meijer Gardens was closed effective Friday evening until further notice. We bring you a glimpse of the exhibit to give you something to look forward to. For updates on Meijer Gardens, click here.

GRAND RAPIDS — I was lucky enough to be able to take in the Fred & Dorothy Fichter Butterflies Are Blooming exhibit at Frederick Meijer Gardens on Friday the 13th, just before they closed to participate in the social distancing order until further notice.

The experience was interesting; I’d never been to a butterfly exhibit before. One could make a case for not having such an artificial event. After all, the butterflies are all tropical. Seeing these species is not going to help anyone learn to identify the butterflies one sees in a northern Michigan summer.

However, chasing butterflies in the wild can be a frustrating experience with few chances to actually get a good look at the winged jewels. At the exhibit, the “problem” was more one of keeping your distance from the insects. A large blue common morpho parked itself on my back and stayed there for more than a few minutes. The air was alive with red, black and blue flapping wings.

The pupa cases were on display and ranged from green, orange and brown to a metallic gold, a most unusual color in the biologic world.

Children and adults alike were enchanted. Pictures were snapped; fingers large and tiny were pointed; hands were held out in hopes that a butterfly would alight. People watched them sip from feeding stations containing honey water and enjoy mixed fruit bowls.

Meijer Gardens has imported 27 species of butterflies and moths this year. They may be active at different times of day, so it’s difficult to see them all in one visit. I believe I saw 14 kinds in the hour I was there.

Perhaps because of experiencing the joy of a butterfly exhibit some of the children in attendance will become interested in searching out native butterflies or insects, perhaps leading to a career as an entomologist. Perhaps someone will learn a new plant and take on a hobby of finding out how to promote healthy ecosystems. Perhaps a homeowner will become interested in creating backyard butterfly habitat. Even if the result is as “simple” as making someone smile, that’s a good result.

Butterfly exhibits and releases have become highly popular, but creating one is not a simple or inexpensive task.

The practice of shipping live pupa across state lines is regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Permits are required. 

There are always concerns about introducing alien species in an area. For the tropical display at Meijer Garden, this is of low concern. Not a single butterfly would survive in our climate if it were to escape. If a female did escape and lay eggs, there would probably be no invasion of alien butterflies because the eggs and caterpillars would first need to survive the cold, and then the caterpillars would need to find a food source they could tolerate. 

However, in the moist heat of a conservatory, the butterflies can mate. The hatching caterpillars may cause severe damage to the plants, so botanical gardens have to ensure that they have ways to  protect their plant collections. 

There are farms that focus on breeding caterpillars/butterflies for sale. No native populations are being decimated simply for our enjoyment.

Butterfly releases are becoming somewhat popular at events such as parties and weddings. Care must be taken that these species are native to the area of the release.

Butterfiles are Blooming is scheduled to last through April 25, 2020 at Meijer Garden. This should be well beyond the time of concern for the spread of coronavirus. Attend if you can.

Joan H. Young has enjoyed the out-of-doors her entire life. Girl Scouting provided yearly training in camp skills, and the opportunity to engage in a 10-day canoe trip. She rode a bicycle from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean in 1986, and completed the North Country National Scenic Trail in 2010, becoming the first woman to hike the entire trail. The books North Country Cache and North Country Quest recount stories of her adventure.

She writes an award-winning monthly column for the Ludington Daily News called “Get Off the Couch.”

She has recently begun writing more fiction, including short stories, mysteries and mysteries for children.

This story is copyrighted © 2020, all rights reserved by Media Group 31, LLC, PO Box 21, Scottville, MI 49454. No portion of this story or images may be reproduced in any way, including print or broadcast, without expressed written consent.

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