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Butterflies need a little coaxing for the long journey March 19, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Ecology, Homes & Gardens.

Colourful and captivating, the Montreal Insectarium celebrates a milestone 10th edition of Butterflies Go Free, its popular passage into spring held in the main exhibition greenhouse at the Montreal Botanical Garden. This year’s theme is Myths and Legends.

monarch.jpg “Butterflies have been around for tens of millions of years and have always been a natural curiosity,” Montreal Insectarium scientific educator Marc Sardi said. “They are a very festive mysterious subject, not just object of beauty.”

The press info offers lots of interesting butterfly myths, legends and fun facts. For example, the oldest known drawing of a butterfly is from Turkey and dates to 6500 BC. In ancient Greece, butterflies are said to have been the symbol of immortality. Greek philosopher Aristotle referred to the butterfly as Psyche, meaning soul, in one of his books. And many Greek coins bear butterfly designs. In present day Mexico, butterflies are associated with specific holidays like Days of the Dead, where Monarch butterflies are said to bear the soul of a departed loved one. A bilingual 10-minute butterfly myths and legends presentation is offered every hour in the main greenhouse.

Sardi says that the botanical garden recreates a natural environment for their temporary indoor tenants and takes into consideration factors like proper temperature and plant selection. “We match the environment as much as possible so the butterflies can accomplish their entire life cycle.”

In all some 15,000 butterflies will be released over the 10-week event. On any given day, some 1,500 to 2,000 butterflies will be present in the greenhouse. Sardi says many of the butterflies need a little coaxing to up and fly away at the time of release.

“They rarely fly out on their own,” Sardi said. “Some are just not ready. They’ve just gone through an extreme metamorphosis and their wings are very soft and fragile. They need a burst of energy for that first flight.”

What’s the first thing the butterflies will do? Probably grab a bite to eat in the form of nectar. “The butterflies are provided with a lot to eat,” Sardi said. On the menu: nectar from intoxicating lavender hyacinths and colourful lantanas. Sardi adds that different butterfly species have their own particular favorites. “For example, many butterflies like the nectar of the milkweed, but only the monarch caterpillars use the milkweed as a host plant.”

On many host plant leaves, visitors can visibly see the eggs that will soon turn into caterpillars. In fact, you can sometimes even see the butterfly laying the egg. The caterpillar will eventually turn into a chrysalis, and then a butterfly. “Some caterpillars complete their entire life cycle here,” Sardi said.

So even though their parents came from as far away as the Philippines or Costa Rica, many of these butterflies are true Canadians. “They’re born and raised here,” Sardi said.

The best time to come visit: sunny conditions, usually between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.

“They keep a low profile on cloudy days,” Sardi said. “Butterflies take advantage of the sun’s rays to gather energy and fly about.”

Butterflies Go Free continues until April 29. Expect a crowd during Easter weekend.

The Montreal Botanical Garden is at 4101 Sherbrooke St. E. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday. Also open Monday April 9. Low-season admission until May 14 for Quebec residents costs $11.50 for adults, $8.75 for seniors and students, $5.75 for youths age 5 to 17, $1.75 for children age 2 to 4. Call 514-872-1400 or visit www.ville.montreal.qc.ca/jardin.

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