In a couple of hours, from 10 a.m. to noon, on Saturday, Aug. 2, you can learn all about the lives of butterflies and caterpillars and what’s needed to attract them. Lepidopterist Victor DeMasi of Redding will be leading his free, annual butterfly walk, sponsored by the Norwalk River Watershed Association. He has been studying and collecting butterflies for more than 40 years, in Kenya, Ethiopia, California, Tanzania, Nicaragua and along the Norwalk River. He is a research affiliate for the Peabody Museum at Yale and an advisory board member of The Norwalk River Watershed Association.
He says that his passionate interest in butterflies started back in 1975. “I took some classes in entomology at the University of San Francisco. My professor was interested in flies and beetles and when I joined the Peace Corps as a science teacher, I tried to find some information about the flies of East Africa. There wasn’t anything about flies, but I found a little book about butterflies and I started to think more seriously about them. I made a pretty sizable collection of the butterflies of East Africa, which is at the Peabody Museum at Yale.
“Butterflies are insects in the group called Lepidoptera. There are about 20,000 species of butterflies. In Connecticut, we have about 130. Where I live in Redding, my wife and I have an old farmhouse with a field around us and in the four years we’ve lived here, we’ve found half of all the butterflies in the state, about 55-60 species.
“We have a butterfly garden, but if you saw it you wouldn’t think it’s a garden. It’s wild, but that’s what butterflies like. To have butterflies, you need caterpillars and they like to eat specific plants, like tulip trees. For Monarch butterflies, you need milkweed,” he said.
“Through the years, I’ve noticed that the changing environment has caused a lot of species to disappear. Invasive plants are ruining butterfly habitats. They crowd out the native plants which provided food for caterpillars. Monarch butterflies are considered in crisis. All Monarch butterflies of the Northeast migrate to a specific 40-acre forest in Mexico, but the Mexicans have been cutting down trees and millions of dead Monarchs have been found on the ground. There were 500 billion Monarchs 20 years ago. The trees used to be dripping with Monarchs.”
Mr. DeMasi’s love of butterflies is an avocation. He earns his living as a painter of unusual interior wall finishes, marble, wood grains, murals, and yes, butterflies! He has been doing this very successfully for 40 years.
“There are usually about 15 people on the butterfly walk, and lots of children,” he continued. “We net some butterflies and then release them. It’s hit or miss how many we’ll see.”
One of the topics he is excited to share with participants will be a discussion of metamorphosis, in which a caterpillar becomes a beautiful butterfly:
“The most amazing thing is the way a caterpillar creates a butterfly. The chrysalis of the caterpillar becomes a mass of goo, and about a week later, the butterfly emerges as a completely formed creature.”
The Saturday, Aug. 2, Butterfly Walk, from 10 a.m. to noon is at Simpaug Turnpike in Redding, just off Routte 7. (Rain date, Sunday, Aug. 3.) Long pants, sturdy shoes and tick repellant are suggested. For reservations, call Mr. DeMasi at 203-448-0106 or email [email protected]