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Walworth County festival’s new Butterfly Barn showcases fluttering beauties

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Catherine W. Idzerda
September 1, 2011
— If Mother Nature isn’t available, use a hot glue gun.

More than sandwiches come in wax paper.


Boys have spots, girls do not.


At Walworth County Fair’s new Butterfly Barn, both facts and lepidoptera flutter through the air. You can’t get out of the barn without learning something about the creatures that float around the barn landing on plants and shoulders, depending on what is most convenient.


“We have monarchs, eastern black swallowtails, yellow tiger swallowtails, and we’ll probably have some red admirals later this week,” said George Mroch, butterfly guy and superintendent of the fair’s Barnyard Adventure area.


The barn features screened windows that wrap around the building and two glass doors so the butterflies don’t get out when visitors come in.


The room is filled with large container plantings holding butterfly snacks: butterfly weed, butterfly bush, goldenrod, amaranth and a variety of other annuals and perennials.


Of course, nature isn’t all sunshine and flowers.


Juliann Russella, 9, a volunteer from Westside Elementary School in Elkhorn, peered suspiciously at a tiny pool next to a recently released monarch.


“Eeuw, I think this one peed on the floor,” she said.


That didn’t deter her—or any of the other young visitors or volunteers—from enjoying the experience.


Russella carried newly released butterflies on a stick, taking them to a plant and giving them a pep talk to encourage them to hop on a leaf.


Butterflies frequently landed on visitors. Some people would occasionally shriek, but more often they were delighted to serve as a makeshift rest area.


Mroch grows some of his own flock, taking butterfly eggs from plants and tending them at home. When the caterpillars hatch they get plenty to eat, and eventually form gumdrop-shaped chrysalides.


In nature, a chrysalis uses a web-like substance to attach itself to a plant—or whatever else it wants to hang from.


“I bring them in here and use just a little drop from a hot glue gun to attach it to a wooden strip,” Mroch said. “It doesn’t hurt the butterfly.”


He’s had as many as 75 chrysalides hanging from the plank.


When butterflies emerge, they immediately find something to eat at the butterfly buffet.


Mroch also orders chrysalides and adult butterflies through the mail.


Butterflies are sent in waxed paper envelopes placed in a cooler, and the temperature sends the butterflies into hibernation. When they arrive at the butterfly barn, the butterflies are gently removed from the envelopes and placed on plants or window screens to slowly warm up.


The chrysalides are mailed in catacombs shaped into a block of Styrofoam.


Male butterflies have spots on their wings that operate like scent glands. Chrysalides even have their own form of gender-determining ultrasound: A chrysalis with a tiny black dot at its tip will be male.


Once the fair ends, the butterflies are tagged and released. A few escape during the fair, fluttering off as though they’d like to spend the day looking at exhibits and nibbling on turkey legs—or the open class floral exhibits.



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