If you’re looking for an unlikely hero, consider Flamingo, a monarch butterfly who just flew from Bend to Santa Cruz, California. That’s about 500 miles if his course was straight and true — but have you ever seen a butterfly fly straight?
Flamingo is one of 14 monarch butterflies released for their autumn migration to warmer weather on Sept. 14 in Bend’s Hollinshead Park by the Deschutes Land Trust.
He was identified Friday in his winter home — Natural Bridges State Beach — by a round tag stuck to one of his wings, said Amanda Egertson, stewardship director for the land trust in Bend. Egertson’s son Eli, an 11-year-old boy with neon-pink hair, named the butterfly. He loves flamingos.
Flamingo, who weighs about as much as a paper clip, is the only one of the Hollinshead Park butterflies whose arrival has been confirmed, Egertson said. But his was quite a journey. Monarch butterflies can travel up to 30 miles a day.
“These butterflies are dodging wild fires and motor vehicles and predators, not to mention all the flying,” Egertson said. “Yes, they are very sturdy. They are incredibly powerful butterflies. A casual observer thinks they are a fragile creature, but their flight muscles are so powerful. When you hold one to attach a that tag, you can feel it pumping its wings. You can feel the pulse.”
Egertson, who has a graduate degree from Iowa State University that involved studying butterflies in the Teton Mountains, is pretty passionate about the little creatures. She can talk about them without having to take a breath.
The butterflies released from Hollinshead Park were part of summer population boom in Brookings — Oregon butterfly aficionados are calling this “the Brookings eggsplosion,” Egertson said.
Female monarch butterflies usually lay about 300 to 400 eggs, but in July, a single female produced nearly 600 eggs, Egertson said. Within a month, those eggs created a population of butterflies that produced 5,000 eggs — too many for the plant life in Brookings to support.
So eggs were sent to Portland, the Rogue Valley and Bend, where 110 eggs arrived in a covered aluminum lasagna tin carefully transported by Egertson. She shared them, mostly with schoolchildren, in Sisters, Prineville and Bend.
“I didn’t want to horde them,” Egertson said. “It is a very powerful experience to see them grow. You care for these teeny, tiny caterpillars, and in 15 days, they grow 2,000 times their size. From smaller than your pinky fingernail to being longer than an adult’s index finger.”
And when a butterfly emerges from its chrysalis, it’s a magical experience, she said.
“Watching it come out and expand its wings and prepare for flight — there is nothing like it,” Egertson said.
Flamingo won’t be back, however. His particular generation, which comes around every four or five generations, lives to survive six to nine months, find a mate, make more butterflies and die.
But he’s got grit. Of the 13 monarch butterflies from Brookings that have been identified in a warmer location, he’s flown the farthest.
— Reporter: 541-383-0348; firstname.lastname@example.org