The Hula Lake has long been a favorite spot for migrating birds, attracting as many flocks of nature lovers as pelicans, storks and cranes. But it turns out that the northern nature reserve is also a popular stop for other flying migrants. Butterflies, especially the stunning African Monarch, have been frequenting the lake in recent years, thanks to the restoral of certain plants to the region. Commonly known as the Plain Tiger butterfly, the large and lovely Monarch is about eight centimeters wide and is found in intense shades of reddish-orange, yellow, black and white.
"The return of plants that disappeared from the area following the draining of the lake [in the 1950s] created ideal conditions for the Monarchs to arrive here in larger numbers than before," says Inbar Rubin, director of guiding and content at the Hula Lake reserve. The area was reflooded in the 1990s to repair the environmental damage caused by the drainage. Numerous plants, which had disappeared when the lake was drained, were restored several years ago to a botanical garden set up to serve as a seed bank.
"We didn't plan on this project affecting the butterflies. We understood that plants bring in more life, but we didn't imagine what an impact this would have on the butterflies," says Rubin. "We restored some 100 plants that had disappeared, including the white water-lily that had not grown here since Lake Hula was drained, the yellow pond-lily, papyrus, reedmace and others," says Rubin.
After the Monarch population establishes itself in the Hula Valley, food competition will drive some of them north, says Ofir Tomer of the Israeli Lepidopterists Society. Tomer notes there have been sightings of butterflies as far north as southern Turkey and even Naples in southern Italy. Their offspring will head south to the Arabian Peninsula, says Tomer.
Ironically, another reason for the return of the butterflies is presence of the strangler vine, a plant that local farmers are trying to remove from their fields because of the damage it causes. The African Monarch is fond of the strangler vine because this large and beautiful butterfly needs toxic plants to survive. The caterpillar that eats the toxic plant absorbs the strong toxins in its body and passes them on to the adult butterfly. The caterpillar and the adult butterfly use the toxins to defend themselves against predators. They also signal their toxicity in their color, and therefore have few enemies.
If you live along the Monarch's migratory route, between Eilat and the Hula Valley, or along the Mediterranean coast, you can attract them by planting some of the butterflies' favorite plants, such as the common rue and the red eucalyptus.
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