Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge near Seymour is looking for volunteers for a special project this weekend to help save monarch butterflies.

One of the most recognizable butterflies here and across the continent, the orange and black winged insect is quickly disappearing and may soon be on the national endangered species list.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which operates Muscatatuck, estimates in the past 25 years, nearly 1 billion monarch butterflies in North America have disappeared. During the past 10 years, the population has dropped more than 90 percent.

That news is alarming, wildlife experts say, because monarchs are an important indicator species that give signs of distress when something is wrong with the environment.

Like bees, monarch butterflies help pollinate flowers and are a key part of the ecosystem and maintaining the food supply.

Scientists are blaming loss of habitat, specifically the use of pesticides that destroy the milkweed plant, as one of the biggest reasons for the species’ demise, said Emily Hodapp, Muscatatuck park ranger.

“The decline of milkweed in the butterfly’s breeding grounds has attributed to the low survival rates of monarch caterpillars,” she said.

An adult monarch will lay eggs on milkweed plants in the spring. When the caterpillars emerge from their eggs, they consume only milkweed because it keeps predators from eating it.

“With the loss of milkweed in fields and along roadways because of agricultural and mowing practices, monarch butterflies are finding limited places to lay their eggs, and caterpillars are locating small supplies of food,” Hodapp said. “These signs enable people to change detrimental environmental practices before it’s too late.”

To help increase the monarch butterfly population locally, Hodapp said people should limit the use of pesticides and herbicides in their backyards and should plant milkweed in their gardens.

On Saturday and Sunday, adults and children may volunteer to harvest milkweed seeds at the refuge beginning at 9 a.m. The project is part of the annual National Public Lands Day at the refuge.

National Public Lands Day is the largest single-day volunteer effort to help improve and maintain public lands, Hodapp said.

The milkweed that is harvested will be planted at the refuge next spring, and extra seeds will be given to anyone willing to create their own butterfly gardens at home.

Besides helping save the monarchs, there will be other activities and projects available for volunteers of all talents this weekend at the refuge, Hodapp said.

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What: Help Save the Monarch Butterflies/National Public Lands Day

Where: Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge, 12985 E. U.S. 50, Seymour. Meet at the refuge visitor center.

When: 9 a.m. Saturday and Sunday

Information: Email [email protected] or visit Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge on Facebook