Butterflies are free once they sober up - East Valley Tribune: Get Out

Butterflies are free once they sober up

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Posted: Friday, September 26, 2008 3:34 pm | Updated: 10:09 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

The butterflies in my envelope are prone and woozy, like frat boys on a Sunday morning.

"They're not 'frozen,' " Desert Botanical Garden's Cristin Kracht explains, "they're in kind of a stupor."

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We're in the Marshall Butterfly Pavilion, a mesh-enclosed, beautifully landscaped haven for more than 800 monarch butterflies. Arizona is a midway point of their habitat, which stretches from the trees of Northern California to the southernmost reaches of Mexico. Today, they begin a five-week gig at DBG, enchanting visitors with their orange freckling and their silent, floating grace. But first, they have to wake up.

"Once they're up and moving around a bit, they're as good as new." Kracht explains. Birds and fish have been known to migrate thousands of miles on a single instinct. The monarchs regard that as so yesterday. Raised on a Northern California farm, these beautiful butterflies are lulled into listlessness by a cold room, packed into wax envelopes, sealed into boxes with dry ice, then shipped FedEx to the Desert Botanical Garden where volunteers rouse them in their new home.

Monarch butterflies arrive in a shipment for the Mariposa Monarca Monarch Exhibit at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix.
Monarch butterflies arrive in a shipment for the Mariposa Monarca Monarch Exhibit at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. TIM HACKER, TRIBUNE

A hung-over monarch crawls dully along the footpath, until a volunteer picks it up. "Let's get you to a tree," she suggests. Others giggle while their monarchs masquerade as barrettes and hair ribbons until they figure out what's going on. Kracht, the manager of temporary exhibitions, says the sluggishness is nothing to worry about. "They just have to get used to their surroundings, and you'll see."

The garden opens its butterfly pavilion in fall and spring. Spring is kind of a smorgasbord, but fall is monarchs only. The atmosphere inside is always pleasantly quiet. Visitors tread lightly around the lily pond, where colors flicker as the butterflies float above the surface. They speak softly near the trees, where clusters of napping monarchs hang like speckled fruit. Patrons don't want to disturb such delicate creatures - little knowing they've been packed and shipped here like summer sausage.

Kracht is right. Within five minutes, the monarchs are flexing their wings in a colorful Morse code. Within 10 minutes, "oohs" and "ahhs" can be heard from volunteers as clouds of monarchs, flashing orange and black, dance between the trees. "It's a much different space, once they come out and fill it," one of them says.

Headliners know how to do that.

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