The Butterfly Effect at Burgess Falls State Park
OK. I admit I have a lifelong fascination with scientific research. I’m a card-carrying science buff with a B.S. in biology, stints in basic medical research at Vanderbilt and Mayo Clinic, and what amounts to an addiction to the Science Channel.
But the “butterfly effect” I’m referring to has nothing to do with chaos theory or whether the flutter of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil could set off a tornado in Texas.
It’s about the effect these magnificent creatures have on us from the time we’re old enough to toddle along reaching toward their brightly colored wings as they flutter by just beyond our grasp.
You’ll learn during the 9th Annual Butterfly Garden Celebration at Burgess Falls State Park on June 15th that there’s purpose to everything they do during their relatively short lives.
The first of the celebration events begins at 9 a.m. with a walk in the woods with Tennessee State Naturalist Randy Hedgepath. Meet at the park’s amphitheater at 10 a.m. to learn more about Tennessee’s native hawks and owls followed at 11 a.m. by a presentation about native mammals.
Butterfly identification walks are scheduled for noon and again at 2 p.m. with Middle Tennessee Naturalist John Froeschauer on hand to introduce you to some of the 91 species of butterflies documented at Burgess Falls and Putnam County.
The average adult butterfly’s lifespan is most likely only a few weeks although some species are known to survive several months as adults. Certain species migrate to find warmer weather or better food supplies. Monarchs are known to migrate thousands of miles to overwinter in Mexico.
Butterflies generally hold their wings vertically when resting but they extend them fully when basking in the sun for their pre-flight warm-ups. They sip flower nectar but may also be seen sipping, or puddling, moisture containing dissolved minerals from puddles and moist dirt. They can even smell with their feet.
After butterflies mate, females lay eggs that begin the life cycle of every butterfly.
Mom has long since fluttered on by the time the baby caterpillars arrive on the scene so they need to emerge on or near the host plants their species feeds on if they’re going to grow up to be butterflies. You’ll want attend one of the sessions planned for 11 a.m. or 1 p.m. that focus on native plants that attract butterflies to your yard and support their lifecycle.
Some fascinating changes occur after the soon-to-be butterfly emerges from its egg as a small caterpillar with a huge case of the munchies. The menu starts with the nutrient-rich egg shell, moves on to the host plants and ends with about a thousand-fold weight gain.
Talk about more being better. Everything grows by leaps and bounds – at least on the inside. The outside covering, or exoskeleton, will split and be shed several times before the homely caterpillar forms a shell, known as a chrysalis, which surrounds it as it makes its final transformation, or metamorphosis, into a butterfly.
You may get your toes wet if you plan to explore the creek and animals that live in it with one of the rangers at noon so be sure to wear shoes you can wade in. You’ll want dry socks, sturdy shoes and drinking water to join the 2 p.m. ranger-led hike to the fabulous Big Falls Overlook.
Vendors will not be present so bring a picnic lunch, snacks, drinks and binoculars that can ideally focus on objects within six feet if you have them available.
And prepare to enjoy this very special garden party.
For more information visit www.tn.gov/environment/parks/BurgessFalls or call 931-432-5312.