Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

The Beauty and Mystery of Monarchs, in IMAX

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

The Beauty and Mystery of Monarchs, in IMAX

Article excerpt

Ever chase a butterfly across a meadow?

"Flight of the Butterflies," a new IMAX film, chases them across a continent.

"No one in the general public has seen anything like this before," says Jonathan Barker, CEO of SK Films and executive producer of this film, set to open at the American Museum of Natural History today. It's already playing at the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City; it will roll out to some 50 U.S. markets (including some 3-D screens) this year.

The giant-screen 44-minute film features plenty of eye candy for nature lovers: clouds of monarch butterflies, super-close-up "macro" photography of pupae hatching, precise computer imaging of the caterpillar-chrysalis-butterfly life cycle.

"Butterflies are so beautiful and precious, and I think people really respond to that," Barker says.

But at the film's heart -- and retold using reenactors -- is a 40- year mystery: Where do North America's monarch butterflies, some of the most dazzling creatures in nature, go for the winter?

It was a question that obsessed a Toronto scientist named Dr. Fred Urquhart, who spent four decades trying to work it out. He recruited an army of volunteers, including schoolchildren, to tag the insects. He followed clouds of the migrating monarchs as far as Texas - then realized the butterflies were merely making a stopover, on their way farther south. He put ads in Mexican newspapers, soliciting information. Finally, in the early 1970s, he got a response.

"A Texan, who was working in Mexico ... was out driving one day in a rainstorm," Barker says. "He saw stuff that was flying at his windshield and he thought, 'This doesn't look like rain.' It was whole clouds of monarch butterflies. And he remembered seeing the ad."

Hired to look by the professor, the Texan, Ken Brugger, and his wife began a two-year search, and eventually found a huge colony of the butterflies clinging to the side of a mountain in the Mexican state of Michoacan. The question remained: Were these the same butterflies that had migrated from the north? Urquhart, now 65 and in poor health, was summoned. "They went up the mountainside," Barker says. …

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