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Science on Tap: conserving monarch butterflies


Karen Oberhauser is one of many people in Wisconsin looking forward to the return of monarch butterflies this spring.

The Director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum and has studied monarchs for more than 35 years.

“They’re incredibly fascinating insects. This is an insect that weighs as much as a paper clip and it can fly all the way from Wisconsin to Central Mexico, a journey that takes it two and a half months,” said Oberhauser.

It’s not just the biological wonders of the monarch that Oberhauser appreciates about the insect.

Over the years, she’s seen how the butterfly can act as a hook between people and the natural world.

“I’ve seen monarchs as kind of a tool that I can use to get people to care. One of the reasons I like monarchs so much is that people recognize them. Very few people are afraid of them. People think they’re beautiful. People think they’re amazing,” said Oberhauser. “They’re just a nice organism to build these connections people and other organisms in the environment and also between people in the United States and people in Canada, where monarchs also live, and in Mexico. They’re just this great connector.”

Unfortunately, the monarch butterfly population has decreased significantly over the years. The insects are threatened by pesticides, climate change, and habitat loss.

Despite the large losses over the years, Oberhauser says it’s not too late and urges people to keep trying to protect the species.

“I’m a conservation biologist and my field is really, in essence, the science of hope. We study what we do in order to make things better for all of the biodiversity in the world. I wouldn’t be in this field if I didn’t have hope,” she said.

Oberhauser will be talking about monarchs and the research being done about them as well as the UW-Madison Arboretum during Wednesday’s Science on Tap Minocqua.

“It’s a wonderful place to visit and learn about restoration and ecology and the natural world and all the organisms out there. We have lots of classes and lots of great things to do. We welcome anyone to come anytime,” Oberhauser said about the arboretum.

Science on tap starts at 6:30 p.m. at Oakfire Pizza.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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