— It doesn’t take long to figure out Ed Wesely is passionate.
Whether it’s a historic barn on his property, his cats or his love for butterflies, Wesley puts his full energy into everything.
That was very much on display last Friday morning as Wesely was about to explain The Butterfly Barn for this news story. You see, the evening before, a huge line of thunderstorms had moved through the area. It was around 5 p.m. when Wesley — and hundreds of others in the Milanville area — was without power.
A veteran of living in rural Pennsylvania, Wesely took it in stride, unlike his neighbor, a New York City resident renting a house who was none to pleased about the situation.
“The power’s out,” he said casually. “Probably will be for a quite a while.”
Wesely moved to this rural location along the Delaware River in the 1980s. The property once belonged to the Dexter family, a prominent group of people in Wayne County. The house was built by C.R. Dexter, who fought for the Union Army in major battles in Virginia.
The barn on the property was built in 1915 and is a German style bank barn. It’s also a prize possession for Wesely.
So much so, he founded “The Butterfly Barn” inside the walls of the historic building.
“We started a nature center,” he said. “We started doing programs during the summer.”
Those programs were wide ranging, from astronomy sessions to butterfly programs. He’s worked closely with the Damascus School in educating the students on a wide variety of topics.
Then, said Wesely, at some point, “I got interested in Monarch butterflies.”
In fact, he said that interest has been keen for the past 20 years.
Wesely became so interested, he started a program of rescuing the eggs and caterpillars, which only eat milkweed plants in that stage of development.
Though he’s slowed down considerably, at one time he was rescuing 400 to 500 of the butterflies each summer. That number has dropped considerably, however, he’s still working hard at rescuing as many as he can.
In fact, the barn is teeming with reusable plastic containers which act as incubators for the creatures. There’s a microscope on the counter so anyone can take a peek at the various stages of development of these interesting creatures.
You might also catch Wesely with a butterfly puppet, a tool he uses while working with the Damascus School students.
“I work closely with the teachers at Damascus School,” he said.
Last year, he had a caterpillar for each of the students. They were able to watch the evolution of the caterpillar, which turns into a chrysalis and then, by what seems a true miracle of nature, into a butterfly.
When in the tight womb of the chrysalis, you can observe the wings of the butterfly. When it finally comes out, the wings are very tiny but within 20 minutes, they have full wings. You can also determine the sex of the butterflies by the wing markings. Within a couple of hours, the butterfly can be released.
And that’s where another miracle happens.
All Monarch butterflies begin a journey that scientists still can’t fathom as possible. By the “millions and billions,” they all make their way to specific mountains in Mexico.
“How they get there, nobody really knows,” he said.
Yet Wesely says he is worried about the future of the butterflies, one of the reasons he continues to help as many as possible.
“I don’t know how long they are going to survive with climate change,” he said.
Wesely said each female Monarch is capable of hatching 200-300 eggs, however, only two or three survive to adulthood. Also, there are many natural enemies of the butterflies, including spiders, munching deer, lawn mowers and the most dreaded — vehicles. Wesely says it’s likely the deadliest enemy of the butterflies is vehicles, from bumpers to windshields.
That’s why in his instructions, Wesely encourages people to find a quiet, rural place to release the creatures. It greatly increases their chance for survival.
In some cases, Wesely said he has tagged butterflies, though not a great percentage. Once, he tagged a butterfly while doing a demonstration in Massachusetts and the creature was found later in Mexico. It flew some 2,200 miles to its eventual destination.
Even as he is slowing down, Wesely admits he’s vigilant about wanting to help the Monarchs.
“I make it harder on myself,” he said.
He does that by keeping meticulous records, including the sex of the butterfly, the date it was found and the date it was released. Those records, he says, could eventually help others who are also trying to save the species.
You can find out much more about Monarch butterflies at www.butterflybarn.org and you can also visit their Facebook page.