Many Iowa backyards are filled with orange-and-black monarch butterflies, which are at their peak here right now. Sara Hollerich, a park ranger at the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge, says those tiny insects are on a serious mission, flying some three-thousand miles from Canada all the way to Mexico.
Hollerich says the same generation will start the migration back but will only make it to Texas or so. Perhaps three or four generations later, they’ll make it to Iowa and a few more to return to Canada. The butterflies we’re seeing are not the same ones that migrated north before, it’s their great-great grand children.
Their lifespan ranges from six weeks to six months. So just what is it in the tiny butterfly that enables it to have such a built-in long-distance road map? Hollerich says no one knows how the great-grandchilden of the monarchs find their way back up north. She says populations are strong this year after going down in recent years due to urban sprawl, herbicides and logging. Hollerich says the monarchs like to stop over in Iowa on their long journey because of the thistles and tickseed sunflowers.
The wildlife refuge is hosting an event on Saturday (September 9) during which an expert on monarchs will give a lecture, then those in attendance will get to see the critters up close. Hollerich says they’ll go out and catch the migrating monarchs in nets to tag them. They’ll place a small sticker on the back wing of the butterfly that does not effect its flight. If scientists in Mexico find that insect, they’ll be able to send a letter back to the refuge to let them know how far it went. For more information about the “monarch madness” event, call (515) 994-3400.