Have some fun helping the Monarch butterfly population

(Above) Three-year-old Lyla Behr releases a butterfly on her front porch.

by Katie Behr

Monarch butterflies are, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful signs of summer. In Iowa we get to experience hatched butterflies in the first few weeks to the middle of July. If you look closely at the milkweed you can find the signature black, white and yellow caterpillars inching about mid-June. This year we kept a few little buggers for ourselves in our home to watch them hatch - sort of a science project for my kiddos who didn’t get much classroom time while I was working from home early this spring.

We started by collecting 14 caterpillars from our yard and placing them in a small mesh pop-up tent I bought online. Monarch caterpillars are very distinct in their coloring, so we knew just what to feed them, fresh milkweed! Each day we placed several large, healthy leaves in their tent that they quickly generated into tiny little green caterpillar poo. At the end of each day we cleaned it out and added more leaves. The kids were amazed at how fast and how much the little guys ate.

All that green makes for a beautiful emerald chrysalis when the caterpillars begin to mature. They started by hanging upside down from the top of the tent and built their homes for the next few weeks. After about 14 days of waiting, all of the once little bugs metamorphosed into beautiful flying butterflies. After quick dry-off in the tent later they were ready to be released by ecstatic kids to pollinate the fields of green around our home.

These beautiful orange creatures make their way south on a 3,000 mile journey from Iowa to Mexico each winter. The health of the population is measured in the number of acres of forest canopy covered in butterflies. Back in April the Iowa Department of Natural Resources released a report from the World Wildlife Fund and Mexico’s Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas from winter 2020. This year’s numbers were an “eye opener,” as less than half of last year’s population was matched. Just seven acres of forest canopy were covered, compared to 15 from the year before.

The 2018-2019 year could be explained as a bumper crop of butterflies, as the population reached a level not seen in 10 years and doubling from the year before.

“Although the number of monarch butterflies overwintering in Mexico has rebounded considerably, turning this encouraging one-year population response into a consistent long-term trend depends on advancing conservation efforts that are critical to help monarchs survive and reproduce in Iowa and the Upper Midwest,” said Steve Bradbury, professor of natural resource ecology and man-

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