Brooklyn Boro

Another royal soon to be gone

September 23, 2022 William Gralnick
Head shot of writer William Gralnick
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Idyllic would be the word to use in describing my neighborhood in Brooklyn. There were, if I remember correctly, five dead-end streets between Foster Avenue and Avenue H. One was the “cut,” Glenwood Road which cut through Rugby Road for a few blocks and cut over the BMT tracks. The other streets were 110 yards long, something a boy needs to know for setting up street games and running races. The houses had front yards and backyards lined with trees, mostly American Sycamores with big leaves and extended branches. This is a recollection of backyards.

Backyards are second only to dead-end streets for a kid. You could hide in them, hop over fences, run away in them, and play in them. In the summer, parents would set up sprinklers so we could splash and play until the yard was mush and we were dotted with mud splotches. The backyards were also gardens. Flitting amongst the flowers were butterflies. There are 20,000 species of Butterflies. Some common butterflies that you will find in the New York City area include Eastern Swallowtail, Clouded Sulphur, Buckeye, Spring Azure, and Pearl Cresent. New York State even has a state butterfly, the Purple Admiral, chosen by 1,400 elementary and middle school students across the state. But there was one that always stood out. It was the black and orange Monarch.

When was the last time you saw a Monarch? Other than the small, white cabbage butterfly, the most populous of them all, when was the last time you saw a butterfly? Even here in sub-tropical Florida, I’d have to answer, “not recently, nor often.” Butterflies are lovely to watch as they flutter here and there. It is what they do while fluttering that is important. Like bees, they ensure that new plants come to life after old ones die.

Not only are they fascinating to watch, but they are altogether fascinating. Here are a few “did you knows.” The powdery scales, which are unique to each species, are what give the butterfly its beauty. The scales on the translucent wings enable them to fly: no powdery substances, no flight. No flight, no life. No life, no pollination. Butterflies have a very short life. If the germination stages are omitted, the lifespan is 5-7 weeks for most. One reason is that they are tasty treats for birds that snatch them from the air. Another reason is that the butterfly is delicate, and the world is not. The third reason is that their habitats are disappearing, and our chemicals are killing them.

Like all other insects, butterflies have six legs and three main body parts: head, thorax (chest or midsection), and abdomen (tail end). They also have two antennae and an exoskeleton.

Their hearts run the length of the body. The brain is in the thorax, and they taste with their feet. That’s a really neat factoid, no?

But here’s what is so important about them. Butterflies are important pollinators. Approximately one-third of all plants need pollination to set fruit, and bees and butterflies are the major pollinators. Flower nectar is the food for adult butterflies, and by flying from flower to flower sipping nectar, pollination occurs.

The Monarch is different. Flying up to 2,500 miles from the US and Canada, where they breed, all the way down to central Mexico, where they hibernate, the Monarch’s migratory pattern is the most highly evolved of any known species of their kind, so tells us the National Geographic.

The Western Monarch population is at the greatest risk of extinction. It has declined by an estimated 99.9%, from as many as 10 million to 1,914 butterflies between the 1980s and 2021. Again—that’s a 99.9% population loss. They are currently on the endangered list.

My editor reminds me that I love this following line and use it a lot. “They pave paradise and put up a parking lot.” More cement, less flowers. The chemicals do the rest.

To see what were dozens of different types of these flying objects d’art, do you want to have to put your kids in the car, drive to a Butterfly World or a botanical garden, look for a parking place and shell out a bunch of money for parking and entry fees? All that for what we got for nothing right in our own backyards. Unless you do something for the Monarch and its cousins, that will be your only option. They will no longer be your family’s backyard fascinators, no longer the things that make you go “oh!” when one or more suddenly appears, no longer a piece of light in an often drab surrounding. Remember this: they can’t help themselves.

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