Flight of the Butterflies (2012) Movie Script

Fred Urquhart spent a lifetime
unraveling the secrets
of the Monarch butterfly.
FRED (voice-over): It has been
said, since Darwin's time,
that evolution is written
on the wings of butterflies.
My destiny was written
on the wings of one.
NARRATOR: As a young boy
in the 1920s, near Toronto,
Fred wondered where
all the Monarch butterflies
were flying to each fall.
He could never have dreamt
that each year,
these Monarchs
join millions of others
on an extraordinary
journey south
to a remote
and distant hideaway.
We begin
our Monarch story today
in a different time and place.
Every spring,
Monarch butterflies arrive here
in the Texas Hill Country.
It's one stage
in a year-long cycle
that will take
at least three generations.
Each generation must survive
through egg, caterpillar,
chrysalis and adult butterfly.
Amongst the spring flowers,
this female has found
a plant called milkweed.
Most varieties contain
some level of poison.
Animals avoid it.
But it's the only plant Monarchs
lay their eggs on.
Inside this egg
is a hungry caterpillar.
After hatching,
it snacks on its egg casing.
Then milkweed
is all it ever eats.
Milkweed is bitter-tasting.
The caterpillars
can tolerate it,
but it makes them
an unpleasant meal
for predators.
Even with
this milkweed protection,
Monarchs are still
a major food source
for birds and insects.
Less than one percent
of eggs and caterpillars
will survive
to become adult butterflies.
This is one of the lucky ones.
We will call her Dana,
from her Latin name,
Danaus plexippus.
Dana and her offspring
must stay lucky
for generations
to survive the year ahead.
FRED (voice-over):
By the 1940s,
I had become a scientist,
and finding where the Monarchs
went had become my quest.
I had the idea that sticking
tags on butterflies
might work,
but no one back then
had ever tagged insects.
So I kept on testing
different glues,
and made tiny tags,
and tried to imitate
a butterfly.
NARRATOR: Back in Texas,
Dana has mated.
Now, she must meet
new challenges.
As the season advances,
the dry Texas heat
slows the milkweed growth.
Dana and her fellow survivors
must fly,
following the spring bloom.
The Southern Monarchs
surge north,
laying eggs as they go.
Up to three generations
over six months
can swell Monarch numbers
to as many as half a billion.
FRED (voice-over):
By the early 1950s,
I had finally solved
the tagging problem.
WOMAN: Ready?
This one's ready to go.
FRED (voice-over): The newly
invented sticky labels
being used on groceries
were the answer.
They were so darn difficult
to pick off,
we tested them on Monarchs.
They worked.
He gave you
a little kiss good-bye.
What do you think, Nora?
(voice-over): While teaching,
I had found another love,
Nora, a fellow butterfly fan.
I can't thank
our friends enough.
This is wonderful
of them coming out here,
taking the time
to do this, but...
(voice-over): Our challenge now
was to find a way to tag them
all across
their breeding grounds.
As Nora said,
"We need a big idea
to keep up
with these little critters."
Who will we get?
NARRATOR: Dana is flying
northeast from Texas.
On the way,
she lays eggs
on milkweed bordering fields.
As farms get bigger,
these borders disappear
and with them,
the Monarch's nurseries.
(engines rumbling)
But Dana escapes, and lives on,
until all her 300
or so eggs are laid.
This is now Dana's daughter.
Like the generation before,
she feeds on milkweed,
And then... becomes a butterfly,
and feeds on nectar.
FRED (voice-over):
Nora and I had that big idea.
We formed the Insect
Migration Association.
We asked for volunteers.
They were known as
"citizen scientists,"
and our tagging efforts as
"the great butterfly hunt."
By the 1960s, we had
over 4,000 helpers.
NARRATOR: Dana's daughter
finds a safe haven
in the fields of
an abandoned farm.
Amongst the flowers,
she also finds a mate.
Together, they will create
the next generation of Monarchs.
With her eggs fertilized,
Dana's daughter is ready
to begin laying.
But this time,
the threat comes from the sky.
(airplane engine roars)
Startled by the crop duster,
Dana's daughter must fly on
until she finds milkweed.
In a new Toronto suburb,
she zeroes in on a garden.
It's been planted especially
to attract and feed butterflies.
It's an oasis of flowers,
promising all sorts of nectar
and milkweed.
She will now lay her eggs;
eggs with a truly
remarkable destiny.
Nora, do you have the letter
with the found tag
that came in this morning?
FRED: Somewhere in
Oklahoma, wasn't it?
Altus, to be exact, Freddie.
FRED (voice-over):
By 1967, our unique family
of citizen scientists
were writing in
from all over North America.
This is one of the 500
we sent to Buffalo.
Buffalo, Buffalo, Buffalo,
Buffalo-- got it.
FRED (voice-over):
We sent out tags
to everyone who wrote to us.
When the tagged butterflies
were found,
their details were returned.
With this information,
we were able to begin
to plot their flight paths.
Thank you.
NARRATOR: Emerging from this egg
is Dana's granddaughter.
Hatching in
the butterfly garden,
she is the third generation
since the Texas meadows.
Each of these Monarchs
is part of a "super generation
destined for
a spectacular journey.
In two weeks,
she will be 2,000 times larger.
Dana's granddaughter
finds a safe place
for her next stage.
Like all Monarch caterpillars,
she has cells that can develop
into an adult butterfly.
In the next 15 hours,
her final
caterpillar skin splits,
and beneath, a new skin
hardens into a chrysalis.
Inside, specialized cells
nourish new tissue growth.
Fed oxygen by hundreds
of fine breathing tubes,
her brain, heart
and digestive tract
change shape and size.
New powerful
flight muscles develop
and compound eyes form.
Long legs and sturdy wings
complete the transformation.
In two weeks,
Dana's granddaughter
has remodeled herself
into a butterfly.
But she will be different--
a super butterfly,
destined to live
eight times longer
and fly much farther than
her mother and grandmother.
She warms her virgin wings,
covered with over
a million scales.
These wings will
take her on a flight
to a secret winter home.
The angle of the sun is
getting lower in the sky.
The days are shorter and colder.
She senses these signals.
It's time to fly south.
After negotiating
city skyscrapers,
the next obstacle
for Dana's granddaughter
is the wide open water
of the Great Lakes.
(ducks quacking)
There will be
many more challenges
on her epic journey to
a place she has never known.
FRED (voice-over):
For years we charted
the different flight paths
of the Monarchs.
A curious pattern began
to emerge.
Most of these Monarchs were
flying southwest into Texas,
but that would mean
they were all
gathering there unnoticed.
How on earth could that be?
Well, there was one way
to find out.
We moved our research to Texas
for the winter of 1970,
and during every spare moment,
Nora and I were on the road.
Traveling more
than 14,000 miles,
we searched high and low for
large gatherings of Monarchs.
But it wasn't to be.
We found none.
Despite spending
two decades tagging
with all those good people
helping us,
I still had no evidence
of the missing Monarchs.
It was like
a butterfly black hole.
(distant howl)
To make her extra long journey,
Dana's granddaughter builds up
fat and conserves her energy.
She will not mate and she will
catch free rides on the winds,
sometimes flying a mile high.
Monarchs are
beautifully evolved navigators.
Their DNA reveals clues
about their exceptional ability
to migrate so accurately.
The multipurpose antennae
constantly track time
and the position of the sun.
They feed a stream
of signals to her brain.
Tiny hairs on her head
gauge the wind.
Her supersensitive eyes
see light waves
and colors far beyond ours.
As the sun moves across the sky
and she keeps time,
like an insect GPS,
she fine-tunes her flight path.
She smells with her antennae
and she tastes with her feet,
detecting the nectar
she needs each night to refuel.
These adaptations, and some
we have yet to discover,
make the Monarch
a master of migration.
FRED (voice-over):
Back in Canada we received
a letter that changed
Nora, dear,
I think we may have something.
MAN (voice-over):
Dear Dr. Urquhart,
I read with interest
your article
on the Monarch butterflies
in my local paper
in Mexico City.
It occurred to me
that I might be of some help.
When driving through the Sierra
Madre Occidental mountain range,
about 120 miles due west
of Mexico City,
I came across wet
and tattered Monarchs
that had been brought down
in a rainstorm.
(thunder rumbles)
FRED (voice-over):
The letter was from Ken Brugger,
an American inventor
working in Mexico.
On his way to meet
his girlfriend,
he had come across something
he wasn't expecting.
(thunder rumbles)
(indistinct conversations)
Diego, look right at me.
FRED (voice-over):
After this encounter,
Ken responded to an article
Nora had placed in a Mexican
newspaper, asking for help.
Romance had blossomed for Ken.
He married Catalina Aguado.
FRED (voice-over):
As a girl, she was enchanted
by small groups of Monarchs
flying and resting
along the cool riverside.
(conversing in Spanish)
FRED (voice-over):
They were the ideal team.
So we hired them.
Here you go, love.
FRED (voice-over):
Now we had
two citizen scientists
in Mexico.
- KEN: You ready?
Watch your foot.
(sheep bleating)
(children shouting playfully)
NARRATOR: Rumors spread that Ken
and Catalina were looking
for rare minerals
or hidden treasure.
- Buenos dias.
- Buenos dias.
(man speaks Spanish)
It's okay, it's okay.
(querying in Spanish)
- No. -No.
-(Catalina querying in Spanish)
- No. -No. -No.
(querying in Spanish)
Bueno? Tu?
(engine starts)
- Adios!
-(children clamoring)
After two years of dead ends,
Catalina deciphers a clue
to where the Monarchs
might be gathering.
Early November is
the Day of the Dead festival,
el Dia de los Muertos.
It is the time to honor
departed loved ones.
In the states
of Mexico and Michoacan,
Monarchs drift
through the cemeteries.
Folklore embraces them as
the returning souls of children.
For Catalina,
her childhood memories take on
a new significance.
Did the flight of
the butterflies point the way?
(rooster crows)
Early one winter morning in
1975, Ken and Catalina set out
for the mountaintop
of Cerro Pelon.
(Ken panting with effort)
(Catalina gasps)
(phone line clicks)
-(phone line beeping)
- Freddie?
Honey, you all right?
They found them.
Ken and Catalina
have found the Monarchs.
That's wonderful.
High up in
the mountains.
Millions of them.
FRED (voice-over):
It was marvelous to learn
about so many butterflies.
But I still had no proof
that those millions
had migrated from the North.
(low, indistinct conversation;
children squealing)
NARRATOR: That September in
the northern state of Minnesota,
Jim Street and Dean Boen,
with their teacher Mr. Gilbert,
carefully log tag PS 397.
All right.
NARRATOR: Every autumn,
the super butterflies head south
in the millions.
Dana's granddaughter is flying
from the Great Lakes to Texas.
With extraordinary aim,
she will funnel across
the Rio Grande into Mexico.
Her target is
a few forested peaks
amongst thousands.
When she arrives,
this tiny creature
will have completed one of the
longest migrations on Earth.
This is the mountainside
that offered sanctuary
to her great-grandmother
exactly one year before.
It is the perfect place.
Far enough south
for the sun's warmth,
yet, at 10,000 feet, it's cool
in the evergreen forest,
with just the right
amount of moisture.
In this fragile microclimate,
Dana's granddaughter
will slow down,
clustering for warmth
and protection,
and living off her fat reserves
until spring.
Yet, even here,
Dana's granddaughter
will face challenges.
Many of the trees
have been cut down.
And as the climate changes,
the combination of cold and
wet storms kills millions.
But for the survivors,
it is a winter sanctuary.
On January 9, 1976,
the Urquharts
made the trek to Mexico,
despite the warnings
from Fred's doctor.
Heavens above.
It's unbelievable.
What a glorious,
incredible sight.
I could not believe
what I was seeing.
One of our tags.
I was holding
indisputable proof
of an incredible journey.
One fragile,
wind-tossed scrap of life,
symbolized both the marvel
of the Monarchs,
and the priceless rewards
of finally resolving
an age-old scientific mystery.
For one truly magic moment,
time stood still.
(wings rustling)
Those who survive the winter
drink in the spring warmth.
The longer days awaken
the dormant urge to mate.
Amongst the mating females
is Dana's granddaughter.
Now it's time for her
to make a final flight.
Catching the winds north,
she will make her way to Texas,
where, just like her
she will lay eggs
on the spring milkweed.
And as it has
for thousands of years,
the Monarchs'
remarkable annual cycle
will begin again.