Ad-Express and Daily Iowegian, Centerville, IA

September 25, 2013

Where are the monarchs?

By JOSH VARDAMAN
Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — If you haven’t noticed, there are far fewer monarch butterflies fluttering around southeast Iowa this year than there have been in years past.

Local monarch tagger Darrell Mack, of Ottumwa, has been tagging butterflies for the past few years but has been housing the migrating monarchs since 1975.

According to Mack, this is the second year in a row he has only tagged five butterflies, which is far less than what he has seen normally. The first year he started tagging was 2011, in which he tagged 144 monarchs, staggeringly more than this year and last.

The tags he places on the butterflies have a number that identify him as the tagger, and when they get to the end of the migration in Central Mexico, the results are sent back to the University of Kansas, where they gather the numbers and write reports.

The problems for monarchs are growing rapidly. They only lay eggs on one type of plant, milkweed, which is becoming less and less abundant throughout their migration path. It is a weed, so, naturally, it is destroyed when planting gardens or fields.

Plus, deforestation on the trees where they winter in Central Mexico and the droughts that have plagued the area the past two summers have driven their numbers down even more.

Jacque Hough, another local monarch enthusiast, has also noticed the drop in number of monarchs in the area. She does not tag them, but she houses them and provides the butterflies with stops along their migration route.

“You would see more of them around in normal years,” she said. “We don’t seem to have normal years anymore.”

The amazing migration of the monarchs is a phenomenon that has captured both Mack and Hough’s attention through the years. The butterflies seem to know exactly where to fly once you let them out of the cage, according to Mack, and Hough refers to them as “miracle monarchs.”

Mack tries to save every monarch he can, and it shames him when one of the butterflies falls prey to a bird before even making it out of his field, since there are so few around these days.

“People always ask me why I put the time into this,” he said. “Everyone that I can save means something to that particular butterfly.”

— To see reporter Josh Vardaman's Twitter feed, go to @CourierJosh