The idea of not having beautiful monarch butterflies fluttering around in their garden was enough to move a Seymour couple to take action.

Jacob and Rose Armand and their 11-year-old granddaughter, Shelby Self, spent most of Saturday morning at Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge near Seymour helping save their favorite butterflies from becoming endangered.

“I just love butterflies, and I’ve seen more this year than last year,” Rose Armand said. “They are just everywhere. I would be really sad if they weren’t here.”

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Although it might seem like there are lots of butterflies around, that’s not the case with monarchs, said longtime Muscatatuck park ranger Donna Stanley.

In fact, the monarch population has decreased by more than 90 percent in the U.S. over the past 10 years, she said.

“It’s just terrible,” Stanley said. “This year, we’ve seen a lot of butterflies because we had a wet, early season, and all the flowers grew beautifully, and the blooms on the wildflowers are just great this year.”

By going out into the refuge and harvesting milkweed pods, the Armands, along with other volunteers and refuge staff, hope to restore some of the iconic winged insect’s habitat.

Rose Armand said she read about a milkweed harvesting project in the newspaper and wanted to help.

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is the only plant monarch butterflies will lay their eggs on because it’s the only thing the monarch caterpillars will eat.

Ingesting the milkweed makes the monarch caterpillars taste bad to predators and keeps them from being eaten, allowing them to survive their metamorphosis into the iconic black and orange butterflies.

“I would like to get some more to plant at home,” Rose Armand said.

Besides milkweed, the couple also plant zinnias, butterfly bushes and even Mexican sunflowers to attract all kinds of butterflies, Jacob Armand said.

Much milkweed is being destroyed these days, however, by mowing, farming, deforestation and land development, Stanley said.

“What’s hit them is habitat loss both here and in Mexico where they spend the winter,” she said.

Also, people are using more pesticides today than they used to, Stanley said.

“We don’t use any pesticides,” Rose Armand said.

It’s those factors making the monarch butterfly population in this area and across North America experience declines so significant that scientists and wildlife experts are taking notice and steps to reverse the trend.

Monarch butterflies are not only beautiful, but they play an important role in maintaining our food supply, Stanley said.

“Like bees, they are pollinators of our food crops,” she said. “There are a tremendous number of food crops that would not grow without pollination. If we lost our butterflies and our bees, we would wipe out a good portion of the world’s food supply.”

Milkweed pods contain seeds, which can be collected and planted in areas to increase butterfly counts.

There are two kinds of milkweed at Muscatatuck that monarchs are attracted to — swamp milkweed and common milkweed — Stanley said.

“We’ll probably have some difficulty finding milkweed today that is ripe,” she said. “We only want to pick the ones that are brown and split open.”

Milkweed is an “old field species” that grows in open meadow areas, Stanley said.

“A lot of what we have here is growing up into trees, so along the road, we won’t see very much, and that is where we want to get more growing,” she said.

Some of the pods also were infested with stink bugs, as the Armands discovered.

In all, volunteers were able to collect many small paper bags of milkweed pods this past weekend.

Picking milkweed and harvesting the seeds was just one of several projects for people to get involved with Saturday on National Public Lands Day. Some groups helped spread mulch to expand the refuge’s nature discovery playground, cleared trails of invasive plant species and weeded and cleaned around the outside of the visitor center.

Around 20 volunteers showed up, including a married couple from Bloomington and a Boy Scout troop from Sellersburg. Some people also came out Sunday to continue harvesting milkweed.

Ray Sease of Seymour said he helped because he has become interested in saving the monarchs. In fact, he helps raise them by keeping them protected in jars and then releasing them after they’ve emerged from their cocoons.

“It’s amazing to think they can fold up their wings and fit inside there,” he said.

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Upcoming events at Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge near Seymour:

  • Oct. 10 — Log Cabin Day. At Myers Cabin, with visits to the closed area of the refuge, a bean supper and a chance to step back in time with pioneer crafts and fun for the kids.
  • Oct. 11 — Big Sit Bird Count. Features volunteers counting birds nesting at the refuge. Call 812-522-4352 or email [email protected].
  • Oct. 11-17 — National Wildlife Week. To celebrate, the refuge’s closed area will be open to walk-in visitors and a variety of events will be conducted.


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