Ottawa Citizen

Miracle monarch crosses Atlantic

The British media are atwitter over the butterfly that landed at the home of England’s foremost lepidopter­ist, writes RANDY BOSWELL.

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Amonarch butterfly, apparently blown thousands of kilometres off course during its fall migration from Canada to Mexico, has crossed the Atlantic Ocean and landed in the lap of lepidopter­ous luxury: the backyard greenhouse of Britain’s foremost butterfly expert.

The miracle monarch “ flew into my garden last Friday,” a delighted Clive Farrell, founder of London’s popular Butterfly House tourist attraction, said. “ I’ve put it in a greenhouse and I’m feeding it to try to overwinter it if I can.”

Described as being in “ almost perfect” condition with only a slight tear to one wing, Farrell’s guest is set to make entomologi­cal history. If it survives, it’s believed the accidental tourist from North America will be the first monarch — not counting the Queen and her ancestors — to live through an entire winter in the British Isles.

Other monarch sightings in Ireland and southern England this month suggest Mr. Farrell’s butterfly was part of a flock of wind- blown flutterbug­s forced — possibly by hurricane gusts — to make an exhausting, nonstop, 5,000- kilometre transatlan­tic journey before finding places to land.

The black- and- orange insects — familiar in North America as icons of the natural world — normally complete a 3,000- kilometre migration from Canada across the continenta­l United States to wintering sites in central Mexico. A Pacific Coast population of monarchs moves annually between sites in British Columbia and the northern U. S. to wintering grounds in central California.

British media have been buzzing with news of the appearance of the “ giant” butterflie­s, which have small resident population­s in Spain’s Canary Islands and Portugal’s Madeira archipelag­o, but are not indigenous to mainland Europe.

Richard Fox, surveys manager with the British nature group Butterfly Conservati­on, said it is unlikely that the monarchs seen in southern England this year would have come north from the Atlantic Ocean islands.

Mr. Fox said that although there are records of previous monarch sightings in Britain, it’s still considered a rare treat for a nation of butterfly enthusiast­s.

“ It’s easy to think of butterflie­s as being very fragile things,” he said, “ but we assume the monarchs we see have crossed the Atlantic from the North American continent.”

The arrival and capture of one of the wayward monarchs at Mr. Farrell’s home, located in the south England county of Dorset, defies all odds, however. The author and vice- president of Butterfly Conservati­on has described the event as a “ one- in- 50- year” thrill that’s certain to make his long- distance guest a national poster pet — at least for a while.

The life expectancy of a migrating monarch is about seven months.

Mr. Fox said scientists have tracked dragonflie­s and songbirds crossing the ocean, and are contemplat­ing experiment­s with tiny transmitte­rs affixed to the wings of monarchs to produce definitive evidence that a few of the millions of migrating butterflie­s in North America are accidental­ly hopping hemisphere­s.

“ People are looking into it,” he said, “ but you can imagine the chances of putting a radio transponde­r on one of the ones that gets picked up and blown across the Atlantic.”

 ?? MARIO VAZQUEZ/ AFP/ GETTY IMAGES ?? Monarch butterflie­s arrive in Mexico during November after completing a 3,000- kilometre migration from Canada. However, sightings in Ireland and southern England indicate a flock of flutterbug­s were forced to make an exhausting 5,000- kilometre transatlan­tic journey.
MARIO VAZQUEZ/ AFP/ GETTY IMAGES Monarch butterflie­s arrive in Mexico during November after completing a 3,000- kilometre migration from Canada. However, sightings in Ireland and southern England indicate a flock of flutterbug­s were forced to make an exhausting 5,000- kilometre transatlan­tic journey.

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