Flight of butterflies: Berkshire Museum and Project Native plan a summer of wings


A monarch butterfly makes a jade-green chrysalis with a band of golden beads. It hangs from the underside of a leaf of milkweed. The golden beads reflect the light -- seen from below, the chrysalis will shimmer and look like a drop of dew.

Karen Leblanc, education and outreach coordinator at Project Native in Housatonic, wants to bring people into the fields, to show them what they might find hard to see.

Craig Langlois, education and program manager at the Berkshire Museum, wants people to think of science like children chasing fireflies.

This summer children can paint the patterns on a butterfly's wing. They can net a monarch butterfly.

They can shine a light in the back yard on a summer night to bring moths.

Sam Jaffe, now working toward his masters in envorinmental education at Antioch University in Keene, N.H., grew up sloshing through the mud and looking under leaves. Now he has developed his own caterpillar lab. He has collected as many as 50 to 80 different kinds of caterpillars.

He will come with his many-legged companions and eggs, hatcheries and moths to the Berkshire Museum's summer Science Night on July 11, when the museum invites kids for an evening of simple, safe play with the natural world: making slime and dropping mentos into coke bottles to watch the explosion of fizz.

He will also work with Maria Mingalone to provide for the museum's summer exhibit: Butterflies.

This summer, the museum will open a butterfly pavillion.

Lesley Beck, communications director at the Berkshire Museum, described an indoor greenhouse filled with host plants and native and exotic butterflies. The show will also have a chrysalis station, a walk through a butterfly's life cycle, photography from the Massachusetts Butterfly Association, historic objects and artworks: a Kimono bright with butterflies, an African butterfly mask, contemporary art.

They will also have a butterfly garden. Project Native naturalists will come June 25 to lead a Butterfly Garden workshop and turn the museum's front garden plot into a butterfly garden, explained public program specialist Emma Kerr.


Project Native has grown their own garden and butterfly house out of their own fields, Leblanc said. As Project Native began to grow more native plants on the property, to create seed banks, the staff noticed more life on the land.

"The spice bush swallowtail caterpillar became a fascination on the farm," she said. It is vivid green and yellow with markings like large eyes, and it lives on spice bush or sassafrass.

As the staff introduced their new passion to people who visited the plant nursery and the trails, they realized people did not know about host plants, the plants the caterpillars depend on.

People understood what it meant to have plants for pollen or nectar, to feed butterflies and honey bees, Leblanc said, but they did not understand what caterpillars eat.

She wanted to explain the whole life cycle, from egg to catepillar to chrysalis to butterfly. She wanted a butterfly house for native butterflies, a small and concentrated world to show happening in the woods and meadows.

This summer, when the butterfly house opens for its second season, visitors may watch butterflies hovering to lay eggs.

Visitors will also help to fill the butterfly house. Leblanc and the Project Native team will lead a series of bug safaris, guided tours with nets and bug boxes. They will also release all of the butterflies at the end of the season.

Inside the butterfly house, caterpillars will voraciously eat their host plants until they reach the end of that stage.

A butterfly caterpillar will make a chrysalis, Leblanc explained, from a protein formed inside caterpillar's last layer of skin. A moth caterpillar will make a cuccoon, spinning it from silk, or forming it from the hairs on its body. Some moths even wrap leaves around themselves.

She showed a row of green and dark swallowtail chrysalides hanging in a hatchery and a cecropia moth's leaf brown cuccoon.


In the spring and summer, the chrysalides will hatch into Red Admirals, Pearl Crescents, bright orange Great Spangled Fritillaries, deep blue Spring Azures and more.

The first to come are the Morning Cloaks, she said. They can live through the winter as butterflies and surive before plants have put out new green. They feed on decaying matter.

By June, the Black Swallowtails will cluster on the Butterfly House's pussy willow, and the kiosk's new living roof may have strawberries in bloom.

Around their own Butterfly Pavillion, the Berkshire Museum has evolved a summer of events. The museum will have weekly children's activities on Friday mornings, Kerr said, and gallery programs Tuesdays and Thursdays in July and August. On Tuesdays they will hold a caterpillar chat, she said. They will have some caterpillars large and robust enough to take out and show.

On Thursdays families can make winged art -- masks, finger puppets, origami. And starting in July the museum will hold an artlab once a month, where kids and families can play with paint, watercolors, chalk and markers, and take their designs and ideas from living butterflies or photographs.

"This is not a shush-don't-touch museum," Beck said.

And along with the regular bug safaris, Project Native will hold a moth night in June. They will set up light traps and a sheet with a light, Leblanc said, and they will bait trees, painting them with a mixture involving stale beer and bananas, to appeal to moths that like sap.

There in the dusk, they may see a living cecropia, a giant silk moth, with a wingspan six inches across and creamy crescents on its amber-brown wings.


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