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Meet Scott Marshall, butterfly guy

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Holmen resident Scott Marshall has become a butterfly farmer, raising monarchs in his home.

By raising the insects in his home, Marshall is doing his part to ensure more become adults than they would if they were in the outdoors.

“Only one to two percent of monarchs in the wild make it to adulthood,” Marshall said. “Ants will eat the eggs and predators such as wasps will kill the caterpillars.”

The adult monarchs will lay single eggs on the undersides of milkweed leaves. Marshall has found a number of eggs on plants growing in the uncultivated land next to the Holmen Community Garden. The community garden is located next to Green Mound Cemetery on Bluffview Court. He’ll also go out to farm fields where milkweed is growing to collect eggs.

He places the bits of leaf with the eggs on fresh milkweed leaves. When the caterpillars hatch, they will feed on the leaves, taking about 10 days to reach the stage where they form chrysalises. The milkweed plants produce a toxic substance that doesn’t affect the caterpillars but will make them foul-tasting to birds.

In the beginning, the jewel-shaped chrysalises are light green and decorated with tiny iridescent dots of gold. When the chrysalises turn dark, Marshall knows the butterflies are about to emerge from the pouches.

When an adult monarch does emerge from the chrysalis, it takes about four hours for its wings to dry and it’s able to take flight.

Marshall usually tries to release the adult butterflies in the country to give them a better chance of survival.

Monarchs have become endangered because of loss of habitat both in their summer breeding grounds in the United States and in their overwintering grounds in Mexico and Southern California.

In the United States, the loss of habitat and food sources result from development in rural areas and the use of pesticides and herbicides that kill milkweed and flowering plants. In Mexico, illegal logging is destroying the monarchs’ winter home.

“Mexico has protected some of the forest where the monarchs go in the winter,” Marshall said.

Two to five generations of the butterflies are produced during the summer in the northern states and Canada before the late summer generation migrates to the oyamel fir forests of central Mexico. When they were more prolific, hundreds of millions of monarchs would migrate to the Mexican high-elevation forests and to southwestern California.

While the monarch caterpillars only feed on milkweed plants, the adults will feed on the nectar of various flowers to store up food for reproducing or the fall migration.

One of Marshall’s neighbors told him they don’t get butterflies in their yard. When Marshall looked at their yard, he found the homeowners didn’t have flowers for the butterflies.

“If everybody plants small plots, then they would have more butterflies,” said Marshall. “Now that we’ve got one (pollinator plot), we have lots of butterflies.”

Marshall shares his interest in providing habitat for pollinating insects by volunteering at the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife and Fish Refuge on Brice Prairie, where he teaches a class on installing pollinator plots to property owners.

Anyone interested in raising monarch butterflies may contact Marshall at 608-526-9077.

More information about helping monarch butterflies can be found by contacting the wildlife and fish refuge by calling 608-779-2399.

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