FORT WAYNE – Donning a pair of butterfly wings, Taylor Davis-Gibson looked like she was ready to make the 2,500-mile trek from North America to Mexico.
But the 4-year-old knows she’s no monarch.
I let them crawl on my arm, she said, speaking about the insect when it’s in its colorful caterpillar stage. I’m not afraid. I like butterflies.
She was one of up to 500 people who participated in Saturday’s Monarch Festival, hosted by the Little River Wetlands Project at Eagle Marsh in Fort Wayne. During the next couple of weeks, millions of butterflies will continue their migration.
In March, The Associated Press reported the number of monarchs making it to their winter refuge in Mexico dropped 59 percent this year, falling to the lowest level since comparable record-keeping began 20 years ago.
It is the third straight year of declines for the orange-and-black butterflies that migrate from the United States and Canada to spend the winter in mountaintop fir forests in central Mexico. Six of the last seven years have shown decreases. The World Wildlife Fund blamed climate conditions and agricultural practices, particularly pesticides that kill off the monarchs’ main food source, milkweed.
On Saturday, however, enthusiasts came to marvel at the insect. Even with its population on the decline, Taylor’s grandmother said the butterfly remains a wonder to behold.
I’ve been tracking them for more than 20 years, said Lisa Conrad, a media integration specialist for the DeKalb County Central United School District in Waterloo. I have (tagged) one and found out it made it to Mexico. It really is exciting.
During Saturday’s event, participants visited several interactive stations that displayed the migration cycle and the monarch’s caterpillar stages.
Betsy Yankowiak is director of preserves and programs for the Little River Wetlands Project. She said the Eagle Marsh area serves as a sort of bed and breakfast for the butterflies en route for Mexico.
It is an incredible insect, she said. In two weeks, they grow from the size of an eyelash to the length of your (index) finger. That would be like an eight-pound baby getting as big as a school bus.