"It’s soft,” Caden Moitoso, 3, a student at Little Shepherd Pre-School in Cranston, said of the Monarch butterfly he held in his small hands. “I want to catch more.”
Caden and his parents Kelly and Jason, joined countless others at Beavertail State Park in Jamestown Sunday for a relaxing afternoon along the shoreline. To their surprise, they found an abundance of Monarch butterflies gliding near the water and fluttering around plants and bushes, as the insects have begun their annual autumn migration to Mexico.
“We’re amazed about the amount of butterflies,” Kelly said. “We saw 20 in one bush.”
In contrast to other butterflies, the Monarch is the sole butterfly known to make a two-way migration. They are unable to survive through cold winter months as larvae, pupae and, in some species, adults. Some fly as far as 3,000 miles.
“I’ve never seen this many butterflies in my life,” said Warwick resident Penny Guzman. She and her husband, Ray, said they have been visiting Beavertail a handful of times each year for the past 20 years to admire the scenery and enjoy a stroll. “The butterflies come right to you. There are little kids here trying to catch them. It’s beautiful.”
Cindy and Scott Gardiner of Westerly agreed. Cindy, who heard about Beavertail from friends, grew up around the ocean and said Sunday marked the first time she saw butterflies so close to the water.
“To see them here is amazing,” said Cindy. “It’s very spiritual. I have a strong connection with butterflies.”
Cindy said that before her brother-in-law passed away from diabetes, he had his leg amputated and her sister stayed with her at her Cape Cod home for a few weeks. There, they spent a lot of time on the porch and noticed a butterfly missing a wing.
“It just kept hanging around and hanging around and it brought a lot of comfort to her because it felt like he was there,” Cindy said. “And when my baby sister passed away, she came to me as a butterfly. She was free and floating. It brought me a lot of peace.”
Others, including Trista Costa of Coventry, also said the butterflies are “awe-inspiring.” She and her family visit the area a few times a month during the summer and fall, and were pleased to witness the bounty of butterflies.
“I love butterflies – they are just so carefree and graceful,” she said. “If I could be an insect, I’d be a butterfly.”
Park naturalist Kimberly Manchester speculates the butterflies have taken an interest in Beavertail because the area offers a variety of wildflowers.
She first noticed the magnitudes of Monarchs settling at Beavertail on Sept. 11. Upon arrival to work that day, she had trouble entering the lot due to butterfly swarms.
“I actually had to stop for a butterfly crossing,” Manchester said. “When I got to my parking space, I got out, closed the car door and there were about 300 butterflies swarming around me. I stopped to dance with them. It was amazing. It was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.”
During the past few weeks, Manchester has noticed that they disappear when the weather is inclement, whether it is because of wind or rain, but come back out as soon as the weather improves.
According to Eugenia Marks, senior director for policy at the Rhode Island Audubon Society, Monarchs tend to hide when it’s cool out. They prefer warm, cloud-free days, so if you’re thinking about heading to the coast to check out the butterflies, she suggested doing so on a sunny day. They often retreat if it’s excessively windy.
In order to fly to Mexico, butterflies need the temperature to be about 68 degrees. They often begin the journey after a night of rest.
“At first light, they’re hanging in trees waiting for the sun to hit them and warm up their bodies sufficiently to fly,” said Marks. “By the time they get there, they are pretty exhausted and they hang out in a torpid state for a lot of the winter. Of course, a lot don’t make it.”
She said Monarchs could frequently be found parked on seaside goldenrod, a yellow flower that’s a rich source of nectar.
Onlookers are not limited to Beavertail. She recommended visiting South Kingstown Town Beach or Sachuest Point.
“It’s not just in Jamestown – it’s all along the coast this time of year,” she said. “The amount of Monarchs vary from year to year, but this year has been exceptional. There has been an explosion of the Monarch population. I’ve never seen them so numerous. It’s astounding. It seems unbelievable.”
Marks predicted they would be around until the first week of October. Some will travel to Mexico from Canada.
Courtney Josephson, who works as a park naturalist with Manchester, said watching people enjoy the butterflies has been wonderful. She especially gets a kick out of seeing children chase after them.
“There was one child running around with a Monarch butterfly kite,” she said. “It was really cute.”
To educate and entertain the public, the scientific documentary and 3D film, Flight of the Butterflies, will debut in select 3D theaters next week. The film chronicles the studies of Dr. Fred Urquhart, who in 1975 helped discover that millions of butterflies migrate to Mexico each year.
Visit flightofthebutterflies.com for more information.