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Missing Monarchs


" So Im going to open up the wings.  "

Its the time of year naturalist Jan Aiels is usually tracking all the Monarch butterflies she caught and tagged around the Indian Creek Nature Center. Its a delicate operation of gently pressing a tiny numbered sticker onto one wing.  The only problem is that this large orange female is one of the very few to pass by this Fall.  

" Shes going to take off and there she goes ..  ten years ago this time of year there would be monarchs covering every goldenrod by the dozens and we have not seen that kind of a migration in at least the past five or six years. "

While volunteers normally net the majestic Monarchs on the butterfly migration route to Mexico, this Fall the fields seem especially empty.  In fact, some counts show Monarch numbers down by as much as 80-percent across Iowa and much of the country. It all started with a brutal  one two punch from the weather.  When the brightly colored giants left their wintering grounds in Mexico last year, they encountered sizzling heat and drought in the southern United States.  Those extreme conditions wilted flowers and left the Monarchs without any fuel or nectar for the long trip north.  This year the next generation got hit again with a cold wet Spring. 

Aiels says if that isnt enough stress on this delicate creature, there is less habitat every year where Monarchs can find flowers to feed on and a safe place to rest at night.  She says the good news is that we can all help Monarch numbers recover.

There are things people can do  and in your yards certainly plant lots of flowers because that provides nectar this time of year as they migrate.  "

Biologist can only hope for better weather and habitat next year so more butterflies will flutter by.

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