Butterflies take flight in IMAX film at Science Centre

Flight of the Butterflies is playing in the Omnimax theatre at the Ontario Science Centre.

The film is about the late Fred Urquhart, who dedicated his life to studying the ecology and migration of monarch butterflies. As a young boy, he always wondered where they disappeared to in the winter. As a result, Dr. Urquhart came up with the idea to tag butterflies so he could track them. He started the world’s first team of citizen scientists to help him discover the butterflies’ hidden ways.

Well-known Canadian actor Gordon Pinsent plays the lead role of Dr. Urquhart in the film.

“The first thing that really captured me was these trees, laden with millions of butterflies,” Pinsent said.

The filmmakers and Pinsent travelled to Mexico to film hilltop monarch sanctuaries. They climbed a 10,000-foot hill and at the top there were 40-foot Oyamel tress covered in butterflies.

“When you start to focus in on this creature you realize just how amazing their life cycle is. You really feel like you’re a part of a great scientific journey,” said Mike Slee, the film’s director and co-writer.

Monarch butterflies go through four stages in their life cycle. They start off as an egg, develop into a caterpillar, then the chrysalis and finally the adult butterfly.

“When you see monarchs in the fall, that’s the super generation. They’re the ones that are not laying eggs, they’re focused on eating lots to store up energy and fat for their long migration of 3,000 miles to Mexico,” said, Laura Murray, a senior host at the Ontario Science Center. “They don’t move very fast, it’s not a speedy migration. They travel 60 kilometres a day.”

The butterflies migrate from across North America to hibernate in Mexico, escaping the chilling cold of northern winters. Their journey back starts in early spring.

“I finally understand Dr. Urquhart’s passion. Not a day went by where he didn’t enter that world of the monarch butterflies. I am glad he completed his mission,” Pinsent said.