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updated: 7/27/2012 4:56 PM

DuPage County Fair exhibit gives kids education in butterflies

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  • Faith Derrick, 3, of Wheaton holds a painted lady butterfly in the Ag-Ventureland's Butterfly Kingdom Friday during the DuPage County Fair in Wheaton.

       Faith Derrick, 3, of Wheaton holds a painted lady butterfly in the Ag-Ventureland's Butterfly Kingdom Friday during the DuPage County Fair in Wheaton.
    Daniel White | Staff Photographer

  • David Jones, who operates the exhibit, said people enjoy the interactive nature of Butterfly Kingdom at the DuPage County Fair in Wheaton. "A lot of butterfly exhibits won't let you handle the butterflies," he said. "Here, we'll try to help people hold them."

       David Jones, who operates the exhibit, said people enjoy the interactive nature of Butterfly Kingdom at the DuPage County Fair in Wheaton. "A lot of butterfly exhibits won't let you handle the butterflies," he said. "Here, we'll try to help people hold them."
    Daniel White | Staff Photographer

  • David Jones, who operates the Butterfly Kingdom exhibit, said butterflies are important players in our ecosystem. "If we lose butterflies, it's a domino effect to the rest of the ecosystem," he said.

       David Jones, who operates the Butterfly Kingdom exhibit, said butterflies are important players in our ecosystem. "If we lose butterflies, it's a domino effect to the rest of the ecosystem," he said.
    Daniel White | Staff Photographer

 
By Annalisa Rodriguez
arodriguez@dailyherald.com

Angelina and Dominic Alongi walked wide-eyed through the tent, gazing up at the butterflies that clung to the walls.

But the real treat for the youngsters came when David Jones gently placed painted lady butterflies on their fingers and, even more unexpectedly, when the insects stayed put.

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"We raised painted ladies in the spring," said Katie Alongi, the pair's mother. "Ever since, the kids have been obsessed with butterflies."

Jones travels with the Butterfly Kingdom exhibit, setting up shop at different festivals with the goal of giving kids an education in butterflies.

Hailing from Arkansas, the traveling show has been to Louisiana, Missouri, Iowa and Illinois since starting this year.

This weekend the butterflies are on exhibit at the DuPage County Fair's Ag-Ventureland exhibit for an additional $1 fee. The fair continues through Sunday at 2015 Manchester Road, Wheaton.

"A lot of the butterfly exhibits won't let you handle the butterflies," Jones said. "Here, we'll try to help people hold them. Most people think it's really neat because it's not every day they get to interact with a butterfly."

But kids don't just get the opportunity to hold the creatures -- Jones also teaches them about butterfly life cycles, which are displayed in the tent.

Visitors can even watch as a butterfly lays its eggs on a host plant. Kids learn what those host plants are and what butterflies eat as adults.

"The more they learn about nature, the better off they'll be," Jones said. "If they don't know anything about it, they won't be conservative about it."

Conservation and awareness are important, Jones said, because the North American population of monarch butterflies is deteriorating.

A decline in butterfly populations doesn't just mean we lose a beautiful insect, Jones said. Butterflies pollinate plants and feed other insects and birds and are also an indicator of the health of the ecosystem. If the ecosystem is out of balance, butterflies would be the first affected because of their delicate nature.

"If we lose butterflies, it's a domino effect to the rest of the ecosystem," Jones said. "We can lose some species and be OK, but if we lose all species in the world, it'd be a devastating effect for everything else. If they're all dying off, you know there's something wrong with the ecosystem."

Jones is so passionate about butterflies he has even been trying to create a garden for them in his own yard with host plants and other attractants, and encourages others to do the same. But he's upfront about the fact that this is simply a hobby for him.

"I'm not an expert," he said. "I'm trying to learn as much about butterflies as I can because I want it to be educational for the kids who do come in."

Alongi said that after raising butterflies in her own home, her family was left with a lot of questions. The packet she was given after purchasing the insects only told them so much.

"It keeps their curiosity about bugs and insects going," she said of her children. "It's good to not be scared."

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