Over 700 people explored the surrounding marsh and meadows on July 22 for the third annual “Butterfly Day” – a free event hosted by the Meadowlands Commission at nearby DeKorte Park in Lyndhurst, just outside Hudson County. People arrived as early as 8:45 a.m. even though the event wasn’t scheduled to begin until 10 a.m.
The sun-filled day also brought out high numbers of butterflies, with 21 species sighted by spectators.
For the first-time ever at DeKorte Park, visitors spotted the meadow fritillary, which is orange and red with heavy black markings and has an affinity for nectar from black-eyed susans, dandelions, and ox-eyed daisies.
The brown-colored horace duskywing – another rarity in the area – was also identified.
Surge in red admiral butterflies
“They all showed up for butterfly day,” said Jim Wright, communications director about the many types of species identified during the butterfly fest. There are 20,000 species of butterfly worldwide and 725 that occur north of Mexico in North America.
Wright said that it had been a good year for butterflies but an especially important year for the red admiral butterfly, which is undergoing an irruption – the term used to describe when a local species population suddenly increases in size. The increase in numbers may have to do with the mild winter the area experienced. Wright said that this was a second generation of red admirals that were drawn to the honeysuckle. He noted such an insurgence only happens every 10 years.
“Butterflies are such a great gateway into nature.” – Jim Wright
Birds also joined in the festivities such as the great egret, tree swallow, osprey, goldfinch, and marsh wren.
In response to what it means for the area to have such wildlife and insects, Wright said,
“For Meadowlands especially, it is a sign that this area is really coming back.”
In the past the area was primarily a dumping ground for waste that caused pollution and environmental degradation, but today the area is in recovery and home to a budding urban ecosystem.
Signs of a healthy biodiversity
“If you don’t have a healthy biodiversity, you don’t have butterflies,” said Don Torino of the Bergen County Audubon Society (BCAS). “They are magical…it is a surreal experience [to see them].”
Torino, who wore black antennas on his head and had butterflies tattooed up and down his arms, organizes a number of nature walks throughout the year.
Torino added that it was important to know that butterflies are interconnected with plants and that for beginners it helps to know about plants.
The NJMC had a variety of flowers to attract butterflies including lavender, butterfly bush, and black-eyed Susans among many others.
Many visitors learned that plants like milkweed attract monarchs while spice bush attracts the spice bush swallowtail.
“That plant is called ‘A Mile a Minute’ because it grows very rapidly,” said Edith Wallace from the BCAS on a walking tour. She led a large group through a path and identified plants and butterflies along the way.
Children at the event walked the trails on a scavenger hunt to find items such as the cone flower or bee balm, which they checked off on a worksheet. They also approached Wallace with various leaves and flowers they had picked up to get help identifying what they were.
Gateway to nature
“Butterflies are such a great gateway into nature,” said Wright. He said that people are drawn to butterflies because unlike other insects, they don’t bite and they are beautiful.
“The kids like the butterflies,” said Michael Alandy from Jersey City. He walked along the meadows with his 3-year-old daughter Victoria who wore a shirt with butterflies on it.
“I love butterflies,” said Jeri Hernandez from Ridgefield. She was pleased that the NJMC hosted such an event and felt that they are doing good work.
“I just like to take photos,” said Suzanne Reynolds from Rutherford. She said that she visits DeKorte Park often.
“Butterfly Day” is run by the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission and the Bergen County Audubon Society, with help from the Northern New Jersey Chapter of the North American Butterfly Association.
Adriana Rambay Fernández may be reached at email@example.com.