Boy Scout builds hoop house to help butterflies

Monarch butterfly population rapidly decreasing, but simple solution touted

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June 8, 2014 | 4:51 pm

CEDAR RAPIDS — A monarch butterfly’s bright, orange wings used to be a lot easier to find at the Indian Creek Nature Center.

“I used to be able to go out just a few hours before our program and catch a lot of (monarchs),” said Jean Wiedenheft, the center’s Land Stewardship Director. “Now I can go out six days before a program and never see any.”

But the nature center took a big step Saturday toward reviving its monarch population by building a so-called hoop house.

The house will be filled with milkweed, a plant key to monarchs’ survival, as well as caterpillars — thus providing a constant food and nectar source for the butterflies.

Boy Scout Will Byers of Marion led Saturday’s construction effort, with an assist from fellow scouts, as part of his Eagle project.

Byers said losing monarchs would mean missing out on the insects’ interesting migratory patterns, which go through Mexico each winter.

According to MonarchWatch.org, an educational outreach program based at the University of Kansas, the average area of monarch colonies at migratory sites in Mexico covered only 0.67 hectares this year, a two-decade low.

Wiedenheft said the decline in population is linked partially to the decline of milkweed, which has become less prevalent as more advanced tractors eliminate the areas where the plant used to flourish on farms. Monarch caterpillars feed only on plants in the milkweed family.

While the process of saving most declining animals or insects is long and expensive, Wiedenheft said, helping monarchs is something anyone can do by planting milkweed.

That step, she said, is even more important because the loss of monarchs would have a devastating affect on other parts of the ecosystem.

Marjorie Jensen of Marion was at the nature center Saturday to attend a class about monarchs offered in conjunction with the hoop house project.

She said the tree in her front yard used to be covered with so many monarchs that “all you could see was orange,” but not anymore.

She is hoping to lure the butterflies back by planting milkweed in her garden.

“I remember standing there seeing this particularly peculiar, but beautiful site,” she said. “That’s why I’m here.”

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