Iowa Consortium Working To Save Monarchs

More than two years ago, groups across the spectrum of agriculture in Iowa started up a consortium to bring back the monarch butterfly. Now they've reached a critical point in planning and are ready to involve everyone.

The Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium released a science based strategy to bring back monarch butterflies, to work with agriculture production and involve the farmers that own so much of the land in the state.

They're working on research to make sure new recommended programs will help improve the habitat of monarchs.

Since 1970, the monarch butterfly has lost 80 percent of its population and 40 to 50 percent of the monarchs that migrate and overwinter in Mexico come from Iowa and bordering corn belt states.

Dr. Steven Bradbury with Iowa State University and the Monarch Consortium says, "We know we've got to get a lot of acres in Iowa and the neighboring states to make a difference. Now the good news is, the monarch doesn't like big tracks of habitat. It actually likes small patches of a third of an acre, a tenth of an acre, maybe up to an acre. So its how to put in lots of little patches of habitat across the state as opposed to a few big patches."

Bradbury says they think that makes it easier to get more habitat, there could be gardens in the suburbs, patches around corn or soybean fields, and even on roadsides.

There's still a lot to learn about monarchs, so Bradbury and other ISU and USDA researchers have a lab breeding monarchs.

They have adults mate and eat, then lay their eggs on milkweed.

They'll then collect the eggs and place them onto individual plants. Those hatch and a tiny caterpillar emerges and eats for just under two weeks.

The bigger caterpillar will then form a chrysalis on the top of its enclosure and start the process of metamorphosis.

That chrysalis is actually where it got it's name. It looks like a emerald embroidered in gold, hence the monarch.

The adult butterflies then emerge and dry their wings, before researchers start the mating process again.

Through this study, Bradbury and the consortium team tried to figure out how much food monarchs need and what conditions best suit them as a part of the plan to save them.

Bradbury says, "To better understand the biology of the monarch, and some of the conservation practices that will be effective in helping to turn around the population numbers. But also a lot of the times is working across all these different organizations in Iowa to come up with the most efficient and effective plan we can put together in moving forward."

They want to enact that plan fast. There are worries bad weather events could devastate the remaining monarchs.

Bradbury says, "Everyone has a role to play, all working together, we can make this happen."

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is reviewing monarch butterflies to potentially add them to the endangered species list.