Falling rain did little to dampen Saturday’s pollination activities at Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge.
More than a dozen visitors took part in a program designed to educate people about a process vital to the food supply around the world.
Learn About Pollinators Day featured three events — a wildflower walk, a butterfly program and a program on bees — aimed at increasing the public’s understanding of pollinators.
“We’re trying to help people get the buzz on pollinators,” said Donna Stanley, park ranger at the refuge located off U.S. 50 east of Seymour.
Volunteer Doug Johnson of Columbus led people on the morning wildflower hike and pointed out several species of flowers beginning to bloom.
Even though spring is when most plants bloom, the rain kept many of those blooms closed, Johnson said.
Sherri Kilburn said the rain didn’t bother her kids or keep them from joining the hike.
“All the kids loved it,” she said.
For others, any program at the refuge is a chance to spend time outdoors with family.
“We usually come down here once a month,” said Tim Clementz, who attended Saturday’s activities with his three daughters.
During the hike, Johnson talked about how he began studying flowers and insects after first learning about trees in the 1970s.
“I started looking at trees and learned all the names of the easy ones I could, then I started looking at flowers,” he said.
Johnson said he has always liked categorizing things, so nature just came easily to him. He tends to stay away from identifying birds, however, because he feels there are already enough birdwatchers.
The volunteer tour guide also identified several trees and additional plant species on the hike including some invasive to Indiana.
Invasive plants are capable of growing earlier, taller or with some other biological advantage over native species which allows them to thrive. They quickly starve out the other species of plants found in the area until only they remain, Johnson said.
Kilburn said she found the walk to be very informative.
“I actually learned quite a bit about the plants here,” she said.
Kilburn said she didn’t know many of the names of the plants, but Johnson was able to identify most of them.
Plant names and their etymology interested Clementz the most.
“I didn’t know, for instance that ‘wort’ in a flower’s name means ‘herb,’” Clementz said.
At noon, volunteer Lin Montgomery of Seymour, dressed as a bee to give a presentation on one of nature’s most important pollinators.
“She’s the queen bee today,” Stanley said, introducing Montgomery to those attending the program in the refuge’s visitor center.
The presentation featured information about other pollinators including birds, bats, beetles and butterflies.
The main discussion, however, remained focused on bees and their role in the ecosystem.
For years, the bee population has been on the decline, Montgomery said.
“Bees are important to many of our food sources like fruits, coffee, sugar and chocolate,” she added. “And food is important to me, especially coffee and chocolate.”
Most species of bees, while collecting nectar, inadvertently collect pollen on their bodies and legs, both of which are covered in fur.
When the bee moves to the next flower, it unknowingly pollinates it, Montgomery said.
Pollination is an essential process to the forming of the fruit or nut for many plants, she added.
Their may be a number of reasons for the decrease in the bee population, including parasites, pesticides and insecticides, Montgomery said.
Individuals can do their part by not killing bees when possible and limiting their use of insecticides.
Besides knowing his wildflowers, Johnson also applied his ability to categorize to the insect world, sharing his knowledge of butterflies.
Stanley said programs at the refuge wouldn’t be possible without the help of volunteers and the Muscatatuck Wildlife Society, a nonprofit group that works to support the refuge and preserve nature.
“This is a great place to volunteer and they need all kinds of people,” Montgomery said of the wildlife group.
There’s an extra advantage to helping out at the 7,724-acre refuge, which was established in 1966.
“If you volunteer, you get to spend your time here,” Montgomery said.
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Those interested in volunteering may visit www.fws.gov/refuge/Muscatatuck/what_we_do/get_involved.html and download an application.
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Upcoming events at Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge
May 14 – Wings over Muscatatuck Bird Festival and the May Day Bird Count
June 4 – Take A Kid Fishing Day
July 9 – Butterfly Count
July 11-15 – Junior Master Naturalist Class
Sept. 17 – 50th Anniversary Celebration
Sept. 24 – National Public Lands Day Workday
Oct. 8 – Log Cabin Day Festival
Oct. 9 – Big Sit Bird Count
Oct. 9-15 – National Wildlife Refuge Week
Nov. 19-20 – Refuge Bookstore Open House