cover image FOUR WINGS AND A PRAYER: Caught in the Mystery of the Monarch Butterfly

FOUR WINGS AND A PRAYER: Caught in the Mystery of the Monarch Butterfly

Sue Halpern, . . Pantheon, $23 (224pp) ISBN 978-0-375-40208-1

Accomplished author (Migrations to Solitude) and journalist (co-founder of the magazine Doubletake) Halpern has a passion for monarch butterflies that drives this evocative, insightful portrait of a species and the people who study it. Every autumn, monarchs in the Eastern United States and Canada migrate thousands of miles to a handful of Mexican overwintering sites, where they rest for the return trip home. "[N]o single butterfly ever makes the round trip," yet thousands converge on the same few sites year after year. Monarchs are the only butterflies to migrate such long distances; the question of how they find their way remains, according to Halpern, one of the great unsolved mysteries of animal biology. Among the a host of colorful scientists and dedicated volunteers she visits are Bill Calvert, the "cowboy entomologist" who sleeps in his truck when out collecting field data, and Chip Taylor, who looks like Father Christmas, snacks on bee pollen and has mobilized hundreds of volunteers to help determine the butterfly's migration routes. Not afraid of dirtying her hands, Halpern weighs butterflies with Calvert by the side of the road in Mexico, tags and raises monarchs with her eight-year-old daughter at their home in the Adirondacks and takes a glider ride to better understand the thermal forces that propel the butterflies for much of their journey. Her lively, lyrical account of monarch life will delight armchair and active naturalists and anyone interested in scientists in action and skies loud with the beat of wings. (May 1)