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August Mendoza Hartley

Tag a Friend–Or a Butterfly

Eco Club safely caught and tagged monarch butterflies at The Kansas History Museum

October 6, 2022

Every year, The Topeka Zoo’s Eco Club goes to the Kansas State Historical Society and Museum to catch and tag monarch butterflies before they leave Kansas and fly down to Mexico.

Rachael Rost-Allen, an education program manager at the Topeka Zoo and one of the teachers for Eco Club, explained why tagging monarchs is important, “Monarch butterflies have declined by 90% in the last 30 years, so what we’re doing here is citizen science and it’s where citizens help in the real-life data collection of this endangered species. So as an environmental club, who cares about nature, we bring them and the public out here to help us catch, safely tag, and release the butterflies so we can track them through their migration and hopefully protect them with the data we collect.”

Rost-Allen said that Eco Club chose KSHS as their location because there are hundreds of acres of prairie for butterflies to take a pit stop in and because there’s enough space to facilitate large groups.

Eco Club has been partnering with KSHS for seven years.

On the impact monarch butterflies have on humans, Rost-Allen said, “They are pollinators, just like bees and bats, and so one in every three bites of food that we eat is a result of pollination, which is a result of pollinators. So, not only do they put billions of dollars into our economy each year just by simply existing, but they provide the food that we eat as well as plants. It’s not just food, we get medicine from plants, we get oxygen from plants, we have direct connection to these pollinators and we have to protect them.”

Monarch butterflies are on the endangered list because of habitat loss in Mexico due to illegal logging, loss of milkweed, herbicide and pesticide use, and climate change.

To help monarchs, Rost-Allen suggested planting milkweed and nectarine plants in backyards, getting a certified pollinator garden, never spraying herbicides and pesticides, and teaching friends about monarch butterflies.

Rost-Allen said, “All these small things make a large difference if everyone across our continent is doing it.”

Rachael Rost-Allen posing with a butterfly catching net

Madeline Holter, a Topeka High junior who attends Eco Club said, “The specific class that I went to wasn’t very successful. That’s only because the majority of the butterflies had already left. I heard that the classes a couple weeks earlier tagged a lot of butterflies.”

“The monarch classes we do every single year and they’re free to the public, so if you didn’t get to make it this year, come out next September, we’ll be doing it again.” Added Rost-Allen. “We have a high-school Eco Club for 9th-12th graders and it meets twice a month. We can accept students any time of year, so if you’re interested and reading this, please give the zoo a call, we’d be happy to chat with you about it.”

“They’ll have presentations that teach people about endangered or threatened species and other problems, like habitat problems going on. Such as global warming, deforestation, coral bleaching,” Said Keira Zimmerman, a homeschooled 8th-grader that attends Eco Club.
“They teach them not only about the problems that are happening but what’s causing them and some ways that they can help [fix] them.”

Eco Club also often includes creative and hands-on activities, so it’s not just sitting the whole time.

“I think Eco Club is really important to learn about what’s and so I keep going because I want to help and it’s a great way for me to learn about problems and the more I know about them, the better I can spread the word so more people can also help fix them, even if they’re not in Eco Club,” Zimmerman said.

When Holter is older they are thinking about becoming a zookeeper.

Holter said, “Eco Club is a fun environment that I think will provide me with a lot of opportunities relating to my future career. It’s also student-run, so it gives us the chance to be leaders.”

The Topeka Zoo’s phone number is 785-368-9137

Their email is [email protected]

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