Butterflies don’t bite. However, more and more people seem to have been bitten by the “monarch bug.” You may have seen these “victims,” who erect monarch waystation signs in their home gardens or chase monarchs with smartphones as they gather evidence to report their sightings to citizen science websites. In extreme cases, people have been known to convert their kitchens into caterpillar raising stations while frantically gathering milkweed leaves to keep these tiny, striped eating machines satisfied. Author Eric Carle was not messing around – these are some very hungry caterpillars!

It’s easy to see how monarch butterflies attract such adoration. Their multi-generational journey from Mexico to Canada and back is similar to a legend. How a seemingly fragile insect can make such an epic trip inspires admirers – young, old and everyone in between. Therefore, it should be no surprise that this year’s Monarch Butterfly Day on Saturday, September 23, at The North Carolina Arboretum will offer a host of conservation opportunities for both children and adults. For kids and families, the event will offer butterfly crafts and hands-on activities inside the Arboretum’s Baker Exhibit Center and Exhibit Greenhouse, which features farm-raised monarch butterflies and other native butterfly species. The adult crowd will enjoy a special presentation from Adam Baker, an entomology graduate research assistant from the University of Kentucky, entitled “Building a Better Monarch Waystation.” Baker will present a summary of the challenges that monarch butterflies face, and he will examine and compare the particular native milkweed species that are available for the landscape. In addition, untreated and unsprayed milkweed plants will be available for purchase at the Baker Exhibit Center, with proceeds benefiting the Arboretum’s youth education program.

This year’s Monarch Butterfly Day is truly a community effort. Thanks to a grant from Explore Asheville Convention and Visitors Bureau/Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority, teachers and non-formal educators from across Western North Carolina have received training, materials and resources to raise wild-caught monarch butterfly caterpillars through the chrysalis stage to adult. These adult butterflies will be returned to the Arboretum where they will be tagged by ecoEXPLORE participants under the direction of Chris Goforth, head of citizen science at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. After marking each butterfly with a unique serial number, our young citizen scientists will parade through the Arboretum’s Quilt Garden as they make their way to the Outdoor Events Garden. There, a crowd of onlookers will watch as the children release the butterflies and bid bon voyage as they embark on their trek toward Mexico.

Join us for a day of celebration for these regal fliers and learn ways to support these vital yet tiny creatures. Perhaps you will catch the “monarch bug” as well!

For more information on Monarch Butterfly Day, please click here.