9/8/2012 7:00 AM
By Maegan Crandall Central N.Y. Correspondent
Monarch Exhibit Delights, Educates NYS Fair Visitors
SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Goats, chickens, cattle, sheep, pigs and alpacas are a staple at the New York State Fair, but this year visitors had the unique opportunity to interact with a new critter — the monarch butterfly.
Inside the horticulture building, a 20-by-60-foot screened garden filled with plants and up to 800 monarch butterflies allowed fairgoers to not only observe and feed the butterflies, but also learn about their lifecycle and importance in nature.
“Butterflies are the No. 2 pollinator after bees and that’s one of the big issues we are facing right now,” said John Dailey, owner of SkyRiver Butterflies. “Both the bees and the butterflies are in sharp decline. One of the reasons for the decline is back in the 1990s they figured out how to modify crops to enable them to be Roundup Ready crops. So the farmers can spray Roundup and it doesn’t kill off the crops, but it does kill off the rest of the local habitat.
“It’s one of the big reasons why we are here — to really develop awareness and education so that people understand that there is a balance between the needs of nature and what we need for farming and food,” Dailey said.
Butterfly populations are experiencing a definite decline that while isn’t a serious crisis yet, could lead to one in the future, he said.
“Everyone knows the saying, No farms, no food,’ but I would like to add on to it: No butterflies, no bees, no farms, no food.’ Somewhere along the line there needs to be a balance,” Dailey said.
Dailey owns butterfly farms in Georgia and Florida, where they raise the insects from eggs to larvae to pupae to the adult state.
“If you have a choice between raising cattle or butterflies, choose cattle,” said Dailey with a laugh. “Not only do you have to raise the butterfly through each stage, you also have to grow its food source, because it’s not like you can walk down to the local store and order bales of hay.”
Of course, milkweed is the preferred source of food for monarch butterflies, and Dailey said growing milkweed is a great way to support the butterfly population.
“Milkweed for monarchs is critical because that’s where the adult lays its eggs, and when the egg hatches it eats the milkweed. So it’s in the larvae stage at that point, so that’s what it feeds on,” he said.
A large butterfly farm would raise up to 5,000 butterflies, but a more typical operation would raise between 1,000 and 2,000 — which Dailey acknowledges is still a lot.
For more information on monarch butterflies, visit www.monarchwatch.org. Dailey’s operation can be found online at www.skyriverbutterflies.com.