Clusters of monarch butterflies released during inaugural Butterfly Festival

Monarch Enthusiasts of Windsor-Essex and Via Italia BIA celebrated the first ever Butterfly Festival Sunday by releasing butterflies grown by members of the group.

'You get hooked,' said one butterfly enthusiast

Festival founder explains the importance of the monarch butterfly

1 year ago
Duration 2:11
The first annual Butterfly Festival was held on August 29 by the Monarch Butterfly Enthusiasts of Windsor-Essex and Via Italia.

Hundreds of monarch butterflies were released on Sunday afternoon by people who have taken to raising them in their own backyards. 

Monarch Enthusiasts of Windsor-Essex along with the Via Italia BIA celebrated the first ever Butterfly Festival at the Community Heritage Garden on Erie Street. 

Leo Sylvestri, the founder of the festival, said there has been a significant decline in the monarch butterfly population over the last 20 years. 

"It's due to the fact that one time they used to be in big numbers around backyards, then all of a sudden they kind of disappeared. That's what is bringing people to help them bring the numbers back to what they used to be," Sylvestri said.

In 2019, the Monarch Enthusiasts of Windsor-Essex established itself with approximately 300 members. Many of the members began raising monarch butterflies, according to Sylvestri, and this years' batch were released on Sunday. 

The group promotes the creation of butterfly gardens by encouraging more people to participate in any capacity that they can. There are now approximately 2,800 members. 

Leo Sylvestri first became interested in raising monarch butterflies after watching a black swallowtail caterpillar eat the parsley in his garden. (Michael Evans/CBC)

Sylvestri has personally raised and released approximately 2,000 monarch butterflies over the last three years. 

Understanding milkweed

According to Sylvestri, caterpillars rely on milkweed for food but two decades ago, most people did not understand that milkweed is the only food caterpillars will eat. 

"A lot of people got more educated by the social media and the news media, telling them that the milkweed is kind of disappearing," he said. 

Sylvestri said the decline has been due to a combination of wide-spread pesticides and insecticides caused by farming as well as a lack of milkweed. 

"Now they fully understand what the milk weed actually does, well everybody's planting it to bring the monarch back," he said. 

'You get hooked'

Teresa Hardy, a butterfly enthusiast, first began raising black swallowtail butterflies, but turned to raising monarchs three years ago. 

"I just saw this critter crawling along the floor and then turning into something so beautiful in the end. You get hooked," Hardy said. 

Hardy said she is passionate about the monarch butterfly due its delicacy. 

"They put up with all kinds of elements from mother nature and they can take it," she said. "But yet they're so delicate, so beautiful, so graceful, so colourful."

She has released more than 125 monarch butterflies this year. 

With files by Mike Evans


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