Butterfly Encounter takes wing at Delaware State Fair

HARRINGTON — At the Delaware State Fair, Exhibit Hall is filled with hundreds of butterflies.

In a mesh enclosure in the building, monarch butterflies, painted ladies and mourning cloak butterflies flutter around visitors, darting through flower beds.

The Butterfly Encounter is a brand new exhibit at the Delaware State Fair, which opened Thursday.

“People love it,” said David Tominus, the assistant for the Butterfly Encounter, “and that’s what we what. It’s our first time here, we want to continue coming and coming and coming.”

As visitors walked into the Butterfly Encounter, Mr. Tominus handed them sponge-topped sticks to dip in nectar.

As visitors held out the sponges, colorful monarchs climbed gingerly onto them to taste the nectar.

The butterflies are attracted to anything sweet, he said.

“You can use Gatorade, you can use pineapple, cantaloupe, anything sugar-sweet,” he explained.

The main objective of the exhibit is teach people about monarch butterflies and the importance of their migration, Mr. Tominus said.

“And how important it is to plant milkweed in their yards,” he added.

Monarchs cannot survive without milkweed. Their caterpillars only eat milkweed plants, he said, and monarch butterflies need milkweed to lay their eggs.

The monarch is the only butterfly known to make a two-way migration as birds do.

Monarchs born in the north live for eight to nine months, migrating south toward Mexico. After overwintering, the butterflies come out of slumber in March and head to Texas, where they lay eggs before perishing. The next group lives for about four weeks, making its way from Texas to Missouri, where the insects lay eggs and give way to another generation.

Another four-week group is born, heading from Missouri to Iowa and Minnesota, where the butterflies lay eggs, leaving their offspring to restart the process.

“They pollinate everything in their migration. They’re just as important as honeybees,” he said.

The Butterfly Encounter also helps with the World Wildlife Fund, he said, and plants milkweed throughout the United States.

On the way out, visitors could also buy souvenirs to take home, including a caterpillar. Kids can take them home and watch them transform into a butterfly and release them, Mr. Tominus said.

“It’s a real transformation,” Mr. Tominus said. “It gives (kids) a chance to come close with nature.”

For more information about monarchs, their migration and how to help them, is online at www.monarchwatch.org.

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