Volunteers are needed for a special weekend event in central Iowa that involves counting flitting butterflies. It’s a census of the colorful winged insects. Volunteers armed only with binoculars and butterfly identification books will hike through a 15-mile diameter circle of the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge in Jasper County.
Refuge biologist Karen Viste Sparkman says there’s no pressure and no heavy lifting, just a pleasant few hours’ stroll through the restored grassland. Viste-Sparkman says, "We have a couple of trails we’ll walk and we’ll also send some people out into the prairie just to walk around see what we can stir up in the grass and flowers. We’ve done it a couple of times at Neal Smith but we’re trying to make it a bigger event this year."
Viste-Sparkman says there are usually about 20 butterfly species spotted on the count, though there are up to 60 species that have been identified year-round on the refuge. She explains the motives behind the count.
Viste-Sparkman says "Butterflies are really important to the ecosystem and they’re a good indicator of how healthy the prairie is, so getting an idea of how many butterflies are out there… We can also track changes over time as our habitat here changes. We’re doing prairie restoration so it changes all the time." To volunteer for Saturday’s count between 10 A.M. to 1 P.M., contact the refuge in Prairie City at (515) 994-3400.