Families Celebrate the Impact of Butterflies at 'Wings in the Park'
Dr. Robert “Butterfly Bob” Snetsinger says there’s a long tradition of children playing in butterfly fields and catching them with nets, but the popular pasttime has been slowly decreasing with the habitats of many wild butterflies.
Fortunately, the Snetsinger Butterfly Garden he developed 18 years ago has dedicated itself to not only preserving their habitat in State College, but also to educating the public about the importance of butterflies and other creatures that pollenate plants, through events like Saturday’s annual “Wings in the Park” celebration.
Sophie Beattie-Moss, 7, of State College says she learned all about the different kinds of pollinators – including bees, butterflies and even bats. A fan of the garden, Beattie-Moss says she enjoys coming with her grandmother to enjoy the range of flowers and butterflies.
“I’ve always liked butterflies because you can catch them and let them go,” Moss says. “They’re so colorful and pretty.”
Stations set up throughout the garden at Tom Tudek Memorial Park also taught children and parents about butterfly life cycles, native plants and how pollinators determine the range of human food.
While speaking to a volunteer from the Shaver’s Creek Wildlife Center at a table along the flower-lined path, Michael Shea pointed at a bowl of tomato soup when asked what foods people could still eat without bugs to pollinate plants.
When the volunteer shook his head, the five-year-old pointed at a glass of orange juice, a serving of broccoli and even meatloaf before learning that almost everything humans eat depend on pollinators.
Pam Ford, director of education and outreach for the butterfly garden, says that the annual event grows each year. This year’s focus is on the plight of the endangered monarch butterfly, which faces increased hardships during its annual migration.
“The milkweed is the only plant the female monarch can lay eggs on, and it’s the only plant the caterpillars can eat and digest,” Pam says, explaining that this limitation is compounded by pesticides and a dwindling habitat.
An obstacle course maze gave children a first-hand look into these hardships, with different obstacles representing different challenges the monarchs face each year. Every child that participated in coloring a section of a large monarch butterfly mosaic was also given a milkweed plant of their own to help give these endangered animals more places to live.
“The 21st century backyard has to think about making space for these important animals,” Ford says.
Ford says this mosaic will travel to school and libraries across Centre County to help teach other children about the lives and importance of butterflies and other pollinators.
Evie Patch, 4, has grown up in State College learned about butterflies and other pollinators from her mother, who works with Penn State’s Centre for Pollinator Research. Patch proudly boasts she can catch and identify numerous different species of butterflies. Events like “Wings in the Park” seem to have made an impact on the young naturalist. When she grows up, Evie wants to work with bees.
Ayla Hanson, 11, of State College says she was excited for the chance to dress in her bright pink butterfly wings and “be like an animal for the day.” She says that, even after learning about the difficulties facing monarch butterflies and other pollinators, she’s neither sad nor worried for their future.
“I’m pretty glad that there are people [like the garden] trying to stop them from being in danger,” she says. “Having a butterfly garden like this one here is one of the best ways to help.”