Where have all the butterflies gone?
This has been a common question among nature observers in the region in recent years.
So one Eagle Scout made it his mission to pave the way for O’Fallon’s Amelia Carriel Junior High School students to continue on his work.
Braden Gaab, of Boy Scouts of America Troop 46, finished his Eagle Scout project earlier than most. He’s a freshman at O’Fallon Township High School.
His project consisted of implementing a Butterfly Sanctuary and Way Station on the south side of Carriel Jr. High near the worm and composting beds. He built a large wooden bench, multiple butterfly houses and planted several native plant varieties that act as attracting or nectar plants and host plants. For example, lantanas, butterfly bushes and common milkweed act as attracting/nectar plants, whereas, milkweed, coneflowers and Shasta Daisies act as host plants for the female butterflies to lay their larvae eggs on the base or underside of the leaves, which emerge in about two weeks as larvae, about an eighth of an inch long, who then eat the plant.
“Monarchs are dwindling and it’s due to a number of reasons, but mainly deforestation due to farming and urban development, so when butterflies are migrating from Canada to Mexico there are fewer and fewer native plants they rely on for sustenance,” Gaab said.
It all started last year with an idea.
Gaab said his former seventh grade science teacher Amanda Mellenthin was wanting to acquire a butterfly way station, so that’s what he gave her.
Once he received approval from the Boy Scout governing board. Gaab got to work on the project, which ended up costing about $600 in materials. It took more than 300 hours of hard labor, which Gaab said was worth every drop of sweat.
“I know I was doing my Eagle project very young, but I wanted to get it done before embarking upon my journey through high school,” Gaab said.
“There’s a saying, ‘when I start high school I’ll get the fumes,’ meaning the car fumes and the perfumes from ladies,” Gaab said with a laugh. “Plus with all the homework and extra curriculars like cross country, I knew I was going to be very busy, and I wanted to be able to dedicate the time and effort the project deserved, not just rush it before I graduated.”
Gaab’s mother looked on with an observed sense of pride and endearment when he spoke of his motivations for the project and timing of the endeavor.
“I really love scouting and I persevered to get it done because it is important and awareness for the Monarchs needs to increase, plus I wanted to be a role model to other scouts younger than me just like older scouts acted as a mentor for me,” Gaab said.
Within the Butterfly Sanctuary are butterfly houses and informational boards to provide visitors with more information about the project, as well as about the region’s butterflies. One board provides explanation for the purpose of Gaab’s project.
“Between the early 1990s and 2014, the Monarch butterfly population has plummeted about 90 percent,” Gaab said.
One board states, “This is due to foresting in Mexico and in the United States urban expansion, farming and development, which decreases milkweed and butterfly attracting plants.”
“These factors destroy the plants butterflies rely on to produce offspring, which are called host plants,” Gaab said.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, the area of forest occupied by colonies of hibernating Monarch butterflies went from 27.48 acres in 2003 to 16.98 acres in only three years, and then even more to 9.93 acres in 2010. In 2014, only a mere 2.79 acres of forest was occupied by colonies of hibernating Monarchs.
Gaab and his mother Jennifer both recalled a road trip taken over the summer from O’Fallon to Chicago and then up north to Delaware.
“It was neat driving along I-55 because we saw signs for a Prairie Grass restoration project along the highway, and you could see that the patches of roadside grass hadn’t been mowed down like it had been previously, and we assume that is to help the local wildlife like butterflies, the native plants and other birds and insects,” Jennifer said.
Gaab said the butterfly houses are made of Red Cedar wood because it is one of the best types of wood for outdoor projects due to its good quality and weather resistance.
“To add to it’s weather resistance, a water and weather resistant stain was applied to give it a natural look and to ensure the wood lasted as long as possible,” Gaab said.
According to Gaab, the houses are very similar to bird houses in that they provide shelter to the butterflies for sleep or hibernation, as well as to keep them out of bad weather conditions and away from predators. They are also able to cocoon in the butterfly houses too, which takes about two weeks.
In nature butterflies seek shelter under trees, leaves, fences, hiding in other vegetation and under eaves of houses. These provide winter refuge for butterflies. These boxes are rectangular in shape with long, narrow openings in the front to mimic crevices or hollow tree openings, according to an educational website about butterfly houses.
Common butterflies to look for in the Carriel Garden and in the area are Monarch’s, Fritllaries; and, Pipevine, Giant and Spicebush Swallowtails.