A Winter Monarch Butterfly


(This 1097th Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on April 1, 2012.)


Without question, the most satisfying reward of writing this column derives from reader responses. Among those responses my real favorites are those that tell me stories and one of the finest I have ever received came recently. Here is that letter from Mrs. Patricia Modleski:


"Having resided in West Seneca for 37 years and subscribing to the Buffalo News for as long as I can remember, I read in your January 1st column that you welcome stories and photos from your readers. Although it is out of character for me to write to a newspaper, I have what many friends think is a rather unusual nature story. I like to think of it as 'The Monarch That Wintered in Buffalo.'


"As a home owner I was raking leaves October 30, 2011, when I looked down to see what I thought was a dead Monarch butterfly. His wings were folded; he was lifeless but intact. I had an aversion to raking him up into a pile of leaves so thought I would take him inside and put him on a paper towel to better study him. As I walked toward the house I thought I detected a very slight movement in one of his feelers and thought maybe he was not dead but simply cold. Our nights had been in the 30s and 40s. In the kitchen I gently placed him on a sprig of mum I had in a bud vase on my table, then went about my day. He was still there when I went to bed and I thought he would surely be dead by morning but at least he would have been warm.


"The next morning I was at my usual place at my kitchen table, coffee in hand, when to my amazement just inches from my face the Monarch spread his wings and climbed to the tip of the mum sprig. He was just beautiful! For reasons unknown to me, he cannot fly. When he outgrew the sprig and another live arrangement of mums, I finally placed him on an azalea plant that I have had since last Easter. He sleeps on it, then tumbles down in the morning to spend his day running around on paper towels flapping his wings and drinking from fruit and sugar water. For warmth I have trained a desk lamp on the towels during the day when I am home. After some research on my part, I found that he eats banana, pear and pineapple and he loves watermelon. I also learned from Marilyn Pecoraro-O'Connell, the owner of "Wild Birds Unlimited" on McKinley Parkway (she had an informative printout) how to make butterfly sugar water, which I taught him to drink from a measuring spoon. As you probably already know (I did not) monarchs have a straw‑like "feeler" that they drink through. He drinks both juice from fruit and the sugar water with this straw and comes running when he sees the teaspoon.


"Many people think Monarchs are God's most amazing creatures. Having seen a television documentary and read Windle Turley's book, "The Amazing Monarch," I tend to agree. They have different life spans, those in the North that are hatched in late summer living the longest (up to nine months) so they can migrate south in the fall and survive there through the winter. A woman at the Canadian Butterfly Conservatory in Niagara Falls, Ontario, thinks the one I have has this longer life span. Today [February 29] marks the end of the 4th month I have had him.


"In closing I have two questions: (1) Have you ever heard of a similar story? (2) Where do I find a butterfly caregiver?"


What a lovely story about an ongoing intimate contact with a living jewel.


I do have responses to Mrs. Modleski's questions. (1) is easy: never. I have heard of people keeping crippled birds overwinter, even hummingbirds. (Doing so without DEC permission is against the law, however.) Usually such crippled birds still attempt instinctively to move southward. And (2) I suggested she contact our local monarch guru, David O'Donnell of Clarence.


Mrs. Modleski's monarch died in mid-March at just about the time it would have if it made that long trip to Mexico and part way back.-- Gerry Rising