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.
Wednesday, June 19 2013 6:12 PM EDT2013-06-19 22:12:23 GMT
A big drug sweep in Springfield this morning targeted drug dealers.More >>
Dozens of alleged drug dealers are behind bars after police conducted a large drug sweep throughout Windsor County. WCAX's Jennifer Reading was with police and got exclusive access during Wednesday's roundup.More >>
Wednesday, June 19 2013 4:36 PM EDT2013-06-19 20:36:22 GMT
Burlington police are investigating a hit-and-run accident. Police say Monday at 4:10 p.m., a woman was walking in the crosswalk at College St. near the Waterman Building at UVM, when she was hit by anMore >>
Police are asking the public for help identifying the suspect in a hit-and-run accident on College Street in Burlington.More >>
Wednesday, June 19 2013 10:03 AM EDT2013-06-19 14:03:21 GMT
A former Customs Agent will sell more more than 150 guns that were seized from his Brattleboro home during a 2011 raid. Special Agent Richard Bernholz pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court to filingMore >>
A former Customs Agent will sell more more than 150 guns that were seized from his Brattleboro home during a 2011 raid.More >>
Wednesday, June 19 2013 6:54 PM EDT2013-06-19 22:54:38 GMT
A propane leak forced evacuations in St. Albans Wednesday. Investigators say someone was operating a hydraulic lift at a property on Lakeshore Drive when the top of an underground tank was clipped, causingMore >>
Several homes in St. Albans were evacuated Wednesday after an underground tank was damaged and started to leak.More >>
Wednesday, June 19 2013 7:48 PM EDT2013-06-19 23:48:02 GMT
"At 0.05 you are already impaired. The danger of being on the road is real," said Rep. Bill Lippert, D-Hinesburg. State Representative Bill Lippert thinks the current standard to determine if someone isMore >>
A Vermont lawmaker wants to cut the legal limit for drunk driving nearly in half. Proponents say the proposal will save lives; opponents say it will kill business.More >>