Of the 110 butterfly species in Vermont, there's one that really stands out-- the monarch. But the state butterfly may be harder to find.
"I would expect a very low population in Vermont this year," said Kent McFarland, a conservation biologist at the Vermont Center for Ecostudies.
That's because of a recent study showing that monarch numbers in Mexico were at their lowest recorded point ever.
"There has been a decline over about a decade in the wintering grounds. But I was surprised at how small the wintering area was this year," McFarland said.
Extreme weather and changes in farming practices in the United States and Canada may be to blame.
"It looks like between drought and GMO crops damaging how milkweed is growing in the Midwest that it's led to a big problem," McFarland said.
That's because milkweed is the only thing monarch butterflies eat, but many farmers consider it a pesky weed. McFarland says changing practices-- like allowing more milkweed to grow-- could turn things around.
"It's not like monarchs are just going to go extinct tomorrow. That's not really what's going to happen here," he said. "But what could happen is that the phenomenon, this migratory phenomenon, could just disappear."
Researchers tracking the monarch movement can thank citizen scientists for their work. It's part of a larger movement in the science community to have people log onto websites and tell researchers what they're seeing where they live.
"A lot of the work we need to do we couldn't possibly do with professional biologists. One, because there's not enough of them and two, it would cost millions of dollars. So we can do really interesting projects to understand these species on the cheap by involving volunteer help," McFarland said.
Through Monarch Watch, for instance, people can tag butterflies. Fifteen of the ones from Vermont have already shown up in Mexico. Other sites, such as the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project, show scientists the growth in individual areas.
"We found out that there was an 80 percent reduction around corn crops from citizen scientists," McFarland said.
On the Journey North site people document the spring migration live through monarch sightings. And e-Butterfly-- launched just last month-- is the latest effort to engage the public.
"It's a way for us to track butterfly populations in Vermont and beyond," McFarland said.
In the meantime, they're hoping for good breeding conditions this summer that will allow the population to climb back up.
Since female monarchs can lay up to 200 eggs at a time, McFarland says as long as there is good milkweed production and no disease, their population could rebound during their stay in Vermont.
Thursday, March 6 2014 11:41 PM EST2014-03-07 04:41:04 GMT
The Randolph man who admitted to murdering his niece in 2008 will be sentenced this spring. In August Michael Jacques struck a deal with federal prosecutors. He gave up his right to an appeal and pleadedMore >>
The Randolph man who admitted to murdering his niece in 2008 will be sentenced this spring.More >>
Thursday, March 6 2014 11:40 PM EST2014-03-07 04:40:13 GMT
It's a real estate deal between UVM and the Queen City that could end up kicking some non-profits to the curb. The Burlington School District voted Thursday night on half of the multi-million dollar deal.More >>
It's a real estate deal between UVM and the Queen City that could end up kicking some non-profits to the curb.More >>
Thursday, March 6 2014 7:53 PM EST2014-03-07 00:53:09 GMT
'Tis the season-- as winter winds down frost heaves and potholes arrive. The ups and downs of the 2014 winter can be seen and felt. No route or road is spared. And just adding to the frustration-- theMore >>
The deep freeze is making for some rough roads across our region and it's also contributing to a fuel shortage. Shelby Cashman has more.More >>
Thursday, March 6 2014 7:56 PM EST2014-03-07 00:56:36 GMT
The pothole problem knows no boundaries. Our neighbors to the north are also dealing with rough roads. The Quebec Transportation Ministry budgeted $260 million for winter road maintenance. But crews haveMore >>
Our neighbors to the north are also dealing with rough roads.More >>
Thursday, March 6 2014 4:23 PM EST2014-03-06 21:23:33 GMT
Investigators now say a fire that damaged a student housing complex at St. Michael's College was not caused by the building's heating system. The fire last month damaged a row of townhouses. All of theMore >>
Investigators now say a fire that damaged a student housing complex at St. Michael's College was not caused by the building's heating system.More >>
Thursday, March 6 2014 4:50 PM EST2014-03-06 21:50:24 GMT
Vermont police say a New Hampshire woman was driving drunk with two kids in her car. The incident happened Wednesday at the Intersection of 1-91 and Route 302 in Newbury, Vt. Vermont state police sayMore >>
Vermont police say a New Hampshire woman was driving drunk with two kids in her car.More >>