For the past five years, Skytop’s Butterfly House has become one of our favorite summer attractions. Skytop’s resident naturalist Rick Koval has estimated thousands of Skytop guests have visited on daily guided educational tours. Without a doubt the most commonly asked question is, “What happens to the butterflies in the wintertime?”
Pocono winters are cold and frigid, which can be devastating for fragile butterflies. However, butterflies are exceptional insects that can cope with the cold…sort of. Because butterflies are cold-blooded insects with a surprisingly short life, some species live only two weeks while others live about 30 days.
The September generation of our monarch butterflies live around nine months, but they don’t spend the winter in the Poconos. Instead, they make the incredible 3,000-mile journey to Mexico to the Sierra Madre Mountains. There they reside in a semi-hibernated state called “torpor” until January when they mate, deposit eggs and die.
The next generation of adult monarch butterflies then migrates northward. The monarchs we house in our Butterfly House are 3rd and even 4th generation of their Mexican grandparents. In mid-September, we gather all of our fresh and healthy monarchs and celebrate an outdoor “monarch release” as we send them off on their long journey to sunny Mexico. The summer butterflies we house in our Butterfly House include several generations of butterflies along with some southern visitors.
The other species of butterflies that we raise inside our Butterfly House are called spicebush swallowtails and black swallowtails. These species perish by October, but their caterpillar offspring develop into a chrysalis where they sleep throughout the winter only to emerge as a beautiful butterfly in late spring and early summer. They can survive freezing temperatures by producing surgery antifreeze in their blood.
Be sure to make a reservation for a guided tour of our Butterfly House next time you’re at Skytop!