LEOMINSTER — Exquisite and fragile, yet strong enough to migrate thousands of miles, monarch butterflies have captured our imaginations with their beauty and complexity.
Elke Jahns-Harms and her family got to know these magical creatures well while raising and releasing over a hundred and fifty butterflies, and she is excited to discuss facts and myths about monarchs and share heartwarming stories and captivating photos from their experiences at her “Magical Monarchs” presentation, to be held at 6 p.m., Wednesday, June 21, at the Leominster Public Library, 30 West St.
“With their iconic colors and graceful flight pattern, these are among our largest and most familiar butterflies, but it is their unique life cycle that is most captivating,” Jahns-Harms said.
While they spend their summers growing and breeding throughout the United States and Canada, every fourth or fifth generation flies south thousands of miles to spend the winter clustered together by the millions in only a few acres in Mexico.
“These butterflies are very easy to raise at home from eggs collected in the wild or in the garden, and it is mesmerizing to watch every stage unfold before your eyes,” Jahns-Harms said. “My husband Garth Harms has captured amazing photos and time-lapse videos of a caterpillar transforming into a chrysalis, and a butterfly emerging and stretching its wings for the first time. We will never look at butterflies the same way again.”
Jahns-Harms said she hopes her audience will enjoy taking some time to delight and wonder at these lovely creatures and leave with a greater appreciation for their beauty and complexity.
“We’ll talk about small steps we can all take to support monarchs and other pollinators in our own gardens and beyond,” she said. “I’ll correct some common misperceptions and share some fun and crazy facts folks can use to impress their friends.”
She will also share tips for raising butterflies at home, for those who want to try it.
“We began raising them a few years ago almost on a whim and have since coached friends and neighbors to raise them as well,” said Jahns-Harms. “We continue to be moved and amazed at how people react to these magical insects.”
Watching people react to these butterflies has reminded Jahns-Harms that even small interactions with animals and nature can be transformative.
“I’ll share stories of some tough urban teens encountering a butterfly raised by their classmates, and how these butterflies provided beauty and comfort to our whole neighborhood during the lockdown,” she added.
Along with bees, moths, and other insects, Jahns-Harms explained that butterflies are important pollinators, helping our fruits, vegetables and flowers grow and produce seeds. Many butterflies and caterpillars are crucial food sources for native songbirds and other species.
“More deeply, I think we all need more joy and beauty in our lives. Having spent so much time with monarchs, we don’t just notice every monarch that floats across our path, we’re also more aware of other butterflies, and the flowers they enjoy,” Jahns-Harms said. “The things we do in our garden to help monarchs also help other butterflies, other insects, and other native wildlife more broadly.”
Jahns-Harms teaches International Development Aid at The Fletcher School of Tufts University, and previously taught Music and Social Change at the New England Conservatory. She holds a Ph.D. in International Relations, a Master’s in Music, and a Bachelor of Arts in Geology and Environmental Science. She has presented her talk on monarchs for local conservation organizations, garden clubs, public libraries, and continuing education programs.
This presentation is for adults and children ages 8 and up. For more information, call the Leominster Public Library at 978-534-7522 or visit them online at leominsterlibrary.org.