New Pa. Farm Show exhibit allows visitors to interact with butterflies

From the Altoona Mirror

                                   Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
January 9, 2012

By Walt Frank ( , The Altoona Mirror
HARRISBURG - The exit sign reads "watch out for hitchhikers."

Those visiting the butterfly house, one of the new exhibits at the 96th Pennsylvania Farm Show, have to make sure none of the nearly 900 butterflies in the display are trying to sneak out with them.

A 12- by 35-foot tent, erected by Folk's Butterfly Farm of Nescopeck, is attracting a lot of attention from both young and old visitors to the show.

The tent includes four kinds of butterflies, monarchs, painted ladies, buckeyes and eastern black swallow tails, said Kristie Folk, daughter of farm co-owner David Folk.

When you walk in, you see butterflies on the floor, walls and ceiling.

Before you enter the tent, you are handed a Q-tip dipped in Gatorade with which you feed the butterflies.

You place the Q-tip next to the butterfly, slide it under the insect and put it between its front legs. You move it toward the body and lift the butterfly onto the Q-tip.

"They lick Gatorade from the Q-tip," Kristie Folk said.

"They taste with their feet. The probiscus comes out and they eat it," David Folk said. "You can carry the butterfly with you through the exhibit."

The Folks brought their butterflies to the farm show for the first time. Their butterfly farm actually started as an FFA project for Kristie, who is now an agriculture education major at Penn State and will do her student teaching in the United School District in Indiana County.

"The first year we totally flopped. It grew every year, and it kept growing. And here we are at the farm show," Kristie Folk said. "Everyone seems so excited, and the kids are having a blast, and the adults are having as much fun as the kids."

Those visiting the butterfly house enjoyed their visit.

"It was really cool. The butterflies really interacted with all of the people. I learned that they smell with their antenna and taste with their legs," said Dahlia Denicore, 9, of Waterford, Va.

"It was pretty neat, just seeing all of the butterflies. It was definitely interesting. A couple of them landed on us," Chris Early of Mechanicsburg said.

The Folks raise butterflies and use them to do educational presentations in schools, day cares and nurseries. They also offer tours of their farm. They also offer butterfly releases for weddings and other events, David Folk said.

Butterflies play a key role in agriculture.

"They are one of the tremendous pollinators. Cornfields are one of their favorites. They like the corn," David Folk said.

Butterflies also play an important role in culture, said Robert Snetsinger, professor emeritus of entomology at Penn State.

"They have inspired composers, poets, authors and artists and have been the boyhood avocation of many famous men and women including Ronald Reagan and Gabrielle Sidonie Colette," Snetsinger said. "In addition butterflies are inspirations for ministers and other clergy showing transformation and are sales-bugs for all kinds of products, almost as popular as pretty girls. "Many cultures believe that the soul is transported to heaven by butterflies

The show runs from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. today through Friday and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. Admission is free, and parking is $10.

The Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex and Expo Center is located on Route 22 and easily accessed from nearby Interstate 81.

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.