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August 26, 2014

Letter to the Editor

To the Editor,

This letter is in response to the "Monarch Butterflies in Trouble" post on Feb. 11th, 2014.

One of the icons of many childhood memories seems to be experiencing a population decline. Numbers of the dazzling orange & black Monarch Butterfly have dropped recently due to reduction in habitat in both their breeding and wintering sites.

It is well known that Monarchs east of the Rockies overwinter in a very few select sites in Mexico. Those along the Pacific Coast journey to Southern California. Not as much is known about those in the Utah Inter-mountain region.

We want to change that. Here's a chance for the residents of Cache Valley to help do a little scientific data collection.

The Cache Valley Wildlife Association (Utah member of the National Wildlife Federation), Stokes Nature Center and Bridgerland Audubon are sponsoring a Monarch larva/caterpillar collection project on Saturday, September 6th. All Cache Valley residents are asked to inspect milkweed plants for larvae within their own communities. If you are not certain as to what milkweed plants, or monarch larva, look like come to Nibley City Hall, 455 W. 3200 S., at 9:00am for a quick workshop. We'll be out collecting by 9:30.

Although Milkweed is not considered a noxious weed by the State or County, it is usually confined to roadside areas where the soil is somewhat moist. Most folks know that it is about three feet tall, has green leaves about six inches long which grow opposite of each other on the stem, will ooze a milky substance if injured, and often has seed pods which my students said resemble pickles. The milk is mildly toxic if taken internally, but the plant is critical to the survival of the Monarch as it is the only species where eggs are laid.

The harmless larva have yellow-white-black stripes, and have antenna near their head and tails. They are usually found on the underside of the leaves, and are quite fragile so don't drop them. Their max size is about two inches, but the smaller you find them, the better their survival.

Bring a container and lid large enough to hold several milkweed leaves, and transfer larva into that container very gently.

Call the number below to learn where to bring your larva, or email me to arrange a pickup in your community.

The larvae will be well cared for, and will morph into butterflies in about a week. We feed them for 3 days to make certain they are strong enough for long flights. Then they are marked with the small "Utah Code" color and pattern and released to begin their migration. If we can mark and release a good number of them, scientists in California may have a chance to spot them. Our Utah Code will help identify them even if they are up high in trees. Once a migration route and destination are determined people can be encouraged to plant milkweed along that pathway.

If you collect larva during other dates (like students bringing them to school in jars), please contact us so that we can mark them for you to release later.

Their migration is truly miraculous since their three proceeding generations have already died off, yet these new babies return to the places that their great-grandparents left in the Spring. Please take a couple of hours to check the milkweeds in your community.

Ron Hellstern
Nibley, Utah

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