A celebration in central Iowa this weekend is focused on an insect, one that’s getting a lot of attention in recent months.
Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines is hosting its annual Monarch Festival as the butterflies make their annual migration over Iowa, 2,000 miles from Canada to Mexico. Jessie Lowry, the zoo’s conservation manager, says one feature of the festival is teaching people how to “tag” monarchs.
“You can safely catch them with a net and you get these little stickers from Monarch Watch at the University of Kansas,” Lowry says. “You gently attach the sticker to their wing and report the serial number and then you let them go on their migration to Mexico. The folks down in the area in Mexico get paid an income to find the tags.”
When those workers find the tags, they’re reported in order to track migratory patterns. While many Iowans are seeing resounding numbers of monarchs and the smaller “painted lady” butterflies this month, Lowry says the monarch population has fallen by 90 percent in the past 20 years. She says Iowans can help to restore the population.
“All you need to do is plant a butterfly garden in your yard,” Lowry says. “A couple important things to include are host plants and nectar plants. Nectar plants are flowering plants, native plants that produce nectar which adult butterflies eat. The host plant for the monarch is milkweed. It’s the only plant their caterpillars eat and it’s the only plant the adult butterflies will lay their eggs on.” These orange-and-black insects play their part in a vital role, especially in an agricultural state like Iowa.
“They’re building blocks of the entire ecosystem,” Lowry says. “Monarchs, like other butterflies and bees, are important pollinators and help produce one-third of our global food supply. Many people have no idea the importance of pollinators to our daily lives as humans.”