Butterfly encounters delight young and old

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Norwich - posted Tue., Jun. 7, 2011
Yaffah, 7, of Norwich, gets to know a butterfly up close. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.
Yaffah, 7, of Norwich, gets to know a butterfly up close. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.

Imagine a garden filled with colorful flowers – then add the element of motion.

“It’s the most beautiful place I’ve ever been,” said Pamela Gibson of Bakersfield, Calif., as she sat on a bench admiring the monarch butterfly that had alighted on her hand.

Gibson, along with her son and soon-to-be daughter-in-law, was enjoying the annual butterfly pavilion sponsored by Chelsea Botanical Gardens on Otrabando Avenue. The event, which featured five different species of native butterflies, is intended to give visitors a taste of the planned garden at Mohegan Park, which will feature a year-round pavilion of exotic butterflies.

Children, senior citizens, insect buffs and the simply curious crowded the exhibit, enjoying the sight of fluttering sparks of color amidst the cheerful plantings and hanging baskets.

“Where else can you see the whole life cycle of the butterfly?” asked Susan Benjamin of Norwich. She was observing a newly-hatched monarch, its wings dark and crumpled, slowly expand into its full glory as it sat in the June sunshine.

Benjamin said she read every one of the flags leading into the pavilion, explaining how butterflies grow and develop from caterpillar to pupa to butterfly. “The ones that hatch at the end of the summer live for four to eight months,” she explained, as opposed to butterflies that hatch early in the summer. Those live for just about two weeks – long enough to mate and die.

Even that part of the life cycle was on display. “They’re stuck together!” exclaimed Yaffah, 7, of the pair of monarchs that attached themselves to her shirt. Pavilion volunteer Wilma Sullivan discretely whisked the insect pair away for a little privacy. Yes, she said, “they’re mating.”

On one side of the net-draped greenhouse, a bare tree branch was hung with what seemed at first glance to be tiny, translucent Christmas ornaments. But on closer inspection, they proved to be the white, gray and celadon-green chrysalides which housed the developing butterflies. Each chrysalis was edged with a fine line of what looked like minute gold beads, from which the word chrysalis is derived (chrysos, the Greek word for gold).

On yet another table, glass aquariums housed monarch butterfly caterpillars, eating their way through piles of leaves.

Besides the familiar orange-and-black monarchs, this year’s 1,000-insect display included red admirals, painted ladies, black swallowtails and mourning cloak butterflies, said Chelsea Gardens board member Mary Edgar. She said that afternoon senior citizen groups visiting from surrounding towns were preceded by morning groups of schoolchildren.

“It was a mob scene,” said Edgar. “Probably in a half hour we had over a hundred kids, plus teachers.” But the flying insects took it all in stride. “They don’t mind crowds or noise,” she said.

One mom, who brought her home-schooled children to see the butterflies, said the pavilion was “better than Roger Williams [Zoo] and better than Disney.”

“We watch for this every year. The kids love it,” she said. “There’s such an abundance and such a nice display.”

Sullivan wielded her soft wool duster along the front and back of every exiting visitor to remove any potential stowaways. “It’s like airport security,” she said.

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