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Beloit couple works to save declining butterflies

By Jennifer Hoff, jhoff@wisctv.com
Published On: Jul 05 2013 09:46:04 AM CDT
Updated On: Jul 05 2013 09:53:21 AM CDT

Channel3000.com

BELOIT, Wis. -

Summertime is usually prime time to catch a glimpse of the best-known butterfly. But the Monarch is on a sharp decline. Experts blame last year’s drought and this year’s cold spring and excess rain for so few Monarchs.

In fact, the number of Monarch butterflies in Wisconsin is at a 23-year low, but a Beloit couple is trying to change that.

At the Hess house, all the magic happens inside. Gary and Darcy Hess keep a watchful eye on the chrysalides that will soon be butterflies -- a small hobby they hope will solve a big problem.

"Maybe you’ve only saved one little piece of the world, one little butterfly, but you’ve done something and at the end of the day, that’s what it’s worth," said Gary Hess.

The Monarch is in a slump in part due to development, chemicals used in agriculture and the drought that decreased the milkweed crop the butterfly solely feeds on. The insect also migrates to Mexico where it faces even more hurdles.

"Deforestation is ruining the habitat, it's changing the environment and it’s making it more difficult for them over winter, so there are real concerns the population will be wiped out down there," explained UW-Madison entomologist Phil Pellitteri.

But he said butterflies can rebound if there’s a robust breeding season at breeding sites in Ohio and Canada. A Monarch population out West isn’t in any danger.

“It’s like many other things; if you lose it, it’s a sign of not taking care of things well,” Pellitteri said.

In the summer, Gary and Darcy Hess scour for eggs that could otherwise be eaten by predators. They said they found fewer eggs this year on the plants that grow on their rural property.

But when they do hatch, the two will care for the caterpillars until they emerge into a statewide symbol.

“We know we’re helping them every time we see a Monarch ... landing on one of our plants and feeding, and we know that we’ve done something good,” said Gary.

The couple will soon start to tag some of the butterflies to help biologists they work with understand the insect’s migration patterns.

The pair also have a wildlife permit to raise Ornate Box Turtles, which are endangered in Wisconsin. In 13 years, the Hesses have released nearly 200 of the turtles into the wild.

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