Bibb County dedicates butterfly habitat at Lake Tobesofkee

rmanley@macon.comOctober 2, 2012 

About three dozen people -- along with numerous monarchs, swallowtails and sulphurs flittering about the blooming flower beds -- turned out Tuesday at Lake Tobesofkee’s Claystone Park for the dedication of Bibb County’s butterfly habitat.

“I was really pleased to see all these butterflies out here,” County Commissioner Bert Bivens told the crowd.

Bivens and members of his family, including 3-year-old grandson Bert Bivens IV who later chased butterflies through the garden’s rock-lined paths, unveiled the new sign at the Mary Jane Newberry Butterfly Habitat. The habitat is named after the elder Bivens’ grandmother, who instilled in him at an early age a love and respect for gardening.

“The worst whoopin’ I ever got was because of one of these hibiscuses,” Bivens said, recounting how his brother once tricked him into tearing up one of his grandmother’s prized plants.

After watching a program on Georgia Public Television, Bivens suggested the idea for a butterfly habitat as a way to draw more visitors to the lake. An early version of the habitat was redesigned by the Northwoods Garden Club, in part to include wider paths to allow for wheelchairs and walkers, said club member Ileta Moen.

“It had large beds that were not easy to walk in or work in,” she said.

Commission Chairman Sam Hart admitted there was some skepticism to the idea among commission members.

“Look at what it has become,” he said. “Commissioner Bivins thought up the idea, but he also sought out the assistance to make it happen. Calloway Gardens has nothing on us.”

One thing the Mary Jane Newberry Butterfly Habitat has on Calloway is the butterflies here are not captive.

“They’re all free to come and go as they please,” Moen said.

A habitat differs from a garden in that it includes host plants as well as plants to feed the butterflies. Most of the butterflies are native to the area, while others pass through while migrating.

Caterpillars spotted on host plants are moved into a nearby screened-in room, where they’re protected from birds until they mature into butterflies and are released. The habitat also includes feeders for hummingbirds, which don’t harm butterflies.

There’s more than just plants there for feeding. A container with over-ripened fruit serves as a buffet for butterfly breeds that pierce the fruit and suck out the syrupy juice.

The habitat has a drip-mist irrigation system, and plans call for a water feature to be added to the boulder at the center of the area. Moen said the hope is to also add lighting.

Bivens encouraged more people to volunteer, saying there is plenty or work to be done.

“We have only one rule,” he said. “Do what the butterflies like.”

To contact writer Rodney Manley, call 744-4623.

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