FAIRFIELD — Unlike Iowans, migrating monarchs don’t have to have a long winter ahead of them. Before winter, these butterflies make the 3,000-mile trek to the forests and mountains of Mexico, and Jefferson County residents get to watch.
At 6 p.m. Sept. 17, people of all ages will meet at Zillman’s Hickory Hills for the third year to watch monarchs take a break from their journeys. Not only do they get to watch, they’ll also assist in monarch research by catching the butterflies, placing tags on them, recording their information and then releasing them.
Jefferson County Naturalist Brittney Tiller said she initially came up with the idea from other naturalists. The first year, participants came to another location. But Tiller wanted to host the event at Zillman’s because she noticed more monarchs coming to that area.
“I also took the time frame into consideration,” Tiller said. “They typically come in the middle of the month of September before the sun sets. They’re also easier to catch in the evening; in the morning they’re more skittish, but you can normally see them in the morning and evening.”
Tiller said last year two monarchs were able to make it to Mexico. Some monarchs are able to go far and others may not, but without tagging the monarchs, people are unable to know how far they can go and researchers at the University of Kansas cannot generate more information.
“When it first started, they weren’t sure where the wintering sites were established,” she said, “because it wasn’t recorded. Somebody may find it the next day in Missouri, but the weather plays a big part in determining how far the butterflies can travel.”
Participants have the option to not catch and release the butterflies, but those who want to catch them must wear long pants and close-toed shoes to protect themselves from the prairie grass.
Tiller is looking forward to seeing people experience something that only happens each fall.
“People of all ages come and some even bring infants,” she said. “It’s such a neat experience to hold a monarch safely and have the last person touch it before releasing them. It’s fun to see them get so excited over a significant creature. It brings out the kid in adults as you see the wonder in their eyes.”
This event is free of charge, and no pre-registration is necessary. For more information, contact Tiller at Naturalist@JeffersonCountyConservation.com or call 641-472-4421.