Today is Saturday, March 25, 2017

Monarch butterfly comes home?

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All spring long I've been looking for them. Even though I knew they would need the butterfly weed nectar on which to survive. But the butterfly weed (the orange common variety) I have in my driveway had already bloomed, and even lost its blooms, and still I hadn't seen one. But there was a late bloomer of the same variety that just came up as the others were losing their vitality. Maybe this was the wave of growth that the monarchs had been waiting for.

I was anxious about this insect because I had heard about the plight of its population, dwindling to about 20 percent of its expected numbers. The trees in Mexico where it takes refuge after an up to 2,000-mile flight were being logged to an alarming rate, and there was a parasite in Florida weakening a good percent of the migration there. Would we ever see another monarch in this area?

Then Linda saw the first one on the garden plot at the fairgrounds. It seems strange that that was where several newly hatched adults were released last year. Could the memory of this location be somehow passed to a butterfly that was a descendant of the one last year?

It's only been in the last few years that the full lifecycle of the survivor has been known. And what isn't known is how they can have the knowledge of the migratory route back to the one area in Mexico where they winter. They have been tagged here and found there, but so far no one has been able to follow the several generations that it takes them to work their way back to Tennessee. For you early budding scientists, what a great project that would be.

Maybe the butterfly that was seen at the garden was just a happenstance. But what if it had been tagged in Mexico and its descendants had been tagged in Texas and then its descendants had come to the little garden where its great-great-grandfather had been raised a year ago? Can you imagine that happening? Maybe somewhere in its ancestral memory of the little town of Lebanon it thought of the beautifully colored zinnias with their tasty nectar.

And what if we lost all of the monarchs? This mystery of their lifecycle, their unbelievable memory and navigation would be lost forever. Could there be something in their pin-head sized brains that someday might be able to help a human with memory loss? Losing them would be a great crime since a better memory is something I'm sure we all could use.

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