The timeless enchantment of monarchs.
The young man sat watching a leaf with an incredible patience that he would not normally have. A tiny drama was unfolding among the hairs on the bottom of the leaf. There, a tiny egg, shaped like a rocket with ridges going up to a point, was hatching.
The egg was slightly larger than the period at the end of this sentence. The black tip of the egg slowly turned into a black head as the caterpillar worked its way out.
At the Monarch Butterfly Festival, taggers will teach attendees how and why stickers are put on butterfly wings.
The young man watched, hoping that it would turn around and eat its egg, like the book said it would. He could have been a statue. If he was, the statue would have been called "The Watcher." The intense concentration rolling off of him was so intense that it could be felt halfway across the room.
Finally, the caterpillar squirmed all the way out, turned around and began eating its egg. If the egg was the size of a period, the caterpillar was the size of the letter "l" in caterpillar.
For him, and the others who watched around him, the birth of a caterpillar was an amazing, awe-inspiring sight. It was one of 30 caterpillars that hatched that day, but the only one that was seen. Caterpillar hatching mostly happens unseen by prying human eyes.
The egg was a Monarch butterfly egg. The caterpillar's job is to eat and grow as fast as it can. In two weeks that caterpillar will grow to the size of your pinky finger. Two weeks after that, it will be flying around at Audubon's annual Monarch Butterfly Festival.
The Monarch Butterfly Festival will take place Aug. 25 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Every part of the Monarch butterfly life cycle, including eggs, will be there. If you are lucky, you will even get to see one hatch.
The butterfly, however, is the main attraction. Monarchs will be flying through a room filled with wildflowers. Volunteers will be there to help visitors hold the butterflies, but those who wear bright colors may be lucky enough to have a butterfly land on them. All the caterpillars, from tiny to huge, will also be there. The large ones will be available to hold.
One of the most interesting parts of the festival is watching how a Monarch butterfly is tagged. Monarchs migrate to the mountains of Mexico each year. Scientists who are trying to understand how that works use volunteers to put tiny stickers on their wings to help track how the Monarchs migrate. A volunteer tagger, who has been tagging for years, will be on hand to demonstrate how the butterflies are tagged and what scientists have been learning from the tags.
In honor of the Mexican migration, there will be Mexican food available for people to purchase, along with some traditional festival foods. There will also be garden tours and a plant sale for visitors who would like to learn how to attract butterflies to their yard.
There are several other new things this year as well. Volunteers have painted a super-sized butterfly and caterpillar so attendees can have their picture taken as if they were a butterfly. Or, if they're younger, as a caterpillar. There will also be a T-shirt sale of some amazing butterfly T-shirts.
Monarch butterflies are one of the most beautiful and enchanting butterflies, as well as the sturdiest to look at closely. The Monarchs raised for the festival were all raised from eggs, which were found in the wild. Eighty-eight percent of wild monarchs die as eggs or caterpillars and never become a butterfly.
By collecting eggs, Audubon is helping more monarchs grow to adulthood. The goal of this festival is to provide enchanting memories of seeing Monarch butterflies up close and holding them, as well as helping people learn the importance of milkweed and other native flowers in the life cycle of butterflies.
Admission to the festival will be $5 for Audubon members and children ages 4 to 12 and $7 for non-member adults and children 13 and older. Children 2 and under will get in for free.
Audubon is located at 1600 Riverside Road, just off Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. The trails and bald eagle viewing are open from dawn to dusk daily. The center is open from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily except Sundays when it opens at 1 p.m. For more information visit jamestownaudubon.org or call 569-2345.
Jeff Tome is a naturalist at Audubon.