Category Archives: Science

Spring 2023 update

We know many of you have been wondering why we no longer have a butterfly house. The short answer is that we have some exciting new jobs outside our work with NV Bugs, that butterfly declines have made it harder to run a butterfly house, and that we have been concentrating our Nevada Bugs & Butterflies time on documenting rare butterflies in Nevada (you can read more about this in our previous blog post).


Butterfly declines in Nevada make it harder to run a native butterfly house

Even since the first year of our Butterfly House in 2013 we have experienced a decline in the number of butterflies we see. The most well-documented decline has been in the western monarch population- millions of monarchs could be found at their overwintering sites in the 1980’s but less than 5% of that number overwinters today (more info here and here). This has led many scientists and monarch experts to suggest it is no longer prudent to collect wild monarchs and raise them in captivity. If you visited our butterfly house in the past, you know that monarchs were a very important part of the experience! As we are out looking for butterflies in the summer we certainly notice other species that were once more common are harder to find now. Recent research done in part at UNR by our mentor and collaborator, Matt Forister suggests there is a 1.6% yearly cumulative decline in western butterfly abundance. This means that every single season there are on average 1.6% fewer butterflies seen by community scientists compared to the year before. As Matt says, it doesn’t sound like a lot, but imagine if every year your bank account was decreasing by 1.6%!

Because we are committed to protecting the amazing diversity found in Nevada, we are hesitant to collect our breeding butterflies from the wild at this time. We are still hopeful it is possible to responsibly run a native butterfly house in Northern Nevada in the future.

Kevin and Cynthia at Rye Patch State Recreation Area

Our new jobs with bugs!

On a more personal note, both Kevin and Cynthia have exciting new jobs- jobs that were not available back when we were running our science center and butterfly house. Kevin is now working for the Xerces Society as a conservation biologist studying western butterfly declines and working with partners to protect our most at-risk species. Cynthia is still the Education and Collections Coordinator for the UNR Museum of Natural History, and recently she has been able to take on more insect curation duties at the museum, in addition to her science outreach work. As you may know, the museum holds all of the University’s plant and animal collections, including valuable insect collections from across the Americas. Curating these collections- organizing them, updating scientific names, and preventing pest infestations- takes a significant amount of time, and it is important work to maintain these collections for researchers and museum visitors. You can schedule a free visit to the UNR Museum of Natural History on their website.

Native Bee Talk by professor and author Joseph Wilson on May 12th

We are very excited to announce the next activity in our spring lineup, a talk by professor and author Joseph Wilson titled “Get to know the bees in your backyard.”

Bees are arguably one of the most important insect groups on the planet, but despite their importance they are remarkably misunderstood.  For example, it is commonly thought that the U.S. and Canada are home to just a handful of bumble bees, sweat bees, and honey bees.  In fact, there are over 4,000 species of bees native to the North America! This talk aims to dispel the common myths of bees, and will provide engaging accounts of the bees encountered in this region of the world, with clues for telling these stunning creatures apart.

Dr. Wilson is an assistant professor of biology at Utah State University Tooele and author of the newly published book The bees in your backyard: A guide to North America’s bees. Copies of the book will be for sale and Dr. Wilson will be signing books following the talk.

This free talk will be held on Thursday, May 12th at 6:30 pm at the Wilbur D. May Museum (inside Rancho San Rafael Park in Reno). The talk is co-sponsored by Nevada Bugs and the UNR Museum of Natural History. It’s sure to be a great time, packed with information and beautiful pictures, and we hope many of you will join us! Send us an email if you have any questions.

Joe's book is also available for purchase from Amazon

Joe’s book is also available for purchase from Amazon

Winter life for the insects

As we all enjoy some much-needed snow (and warm days in between!) this winter, one of the most common questions we get is about how insects survive the winter. And, as with other parts of insect biology, there are a wide variety of strategies. Using butterflies as examples, each species has its own strategy to survive from one fall to the next spring, or a way to ‘overwinter.’ Check out the pictures below to see how some Nevada butterflies overwinter!

One of the most famous strategies is migration to warmer locations, just like birds. The monarch migrates in the fall from northern latitudes to specific locations in central Mexico, southern Arizona, or coastal California, with the same individuals flying north again in the spring.

Painted ladies may overwinter in warmer areas as well, with populations reproducing all year long in warm climates and some individuals moving north each spring.

Buckeyes are similar to painted ladies; they may re-colonize the same area over and over as it warms up from spring into summer, sometimes returning in huge numbers.

The Melissa blue overwinters as an egg. In late summer, the adult Melissa blue will lay an egg on its hostplant (the plant required by caterpillars to survive), lupines or milk-vetches, and the egg will wait to hatch until the following spring when the plant begins to grow again. When the caterpillar emerges, it will be ready to eat!

The common ringlet overwinters as a caterpillar. Often the caterpillars will roll up inside dead leaves, or tuck in tightly at the base of their hostplant (for the common ringlet that is native grasses), and come out of hibernation when the warm weather returns.


The Stillwater Foundation awards grant to Nevada Bugs!

We are very pleased to announce that Nevada Bugs has been awarded a grant from the Stillwater Foundation, located in Reno, Nevada! The Stillwater Foundation seeks to promote global well being by supporting organizations that provide youth development and education, contribute to medical research and outreach, and promote environmental stewardship. We are proud that our outdoor science center and outreach programs serve as educational resources for the community in and around Reno. With the science center and butterfly house closed for the winter after a third hugely successful season, our organization’s work continues with outreach events at schools and youth groups throughout the year. We are also already planning for next year’s season at the science center and beyond, including educational workshops about pollinator identification and conservation and the creation of a citizen science butterfly monitoring program to be a part of the North American Butterfly Monitoring Network. Funds from organizations like the Stillwater Foundation go directly into this programming and we are so thankful for their support of our mission!

Pygmy blue butterfly, Quail Valley Road, Reno, November 8, 2015

Pygmy blue butterfly, Quail Valley Road, Reno, November 8, 2015

Nevada Bugs awarded a Helen Close Charitable Foundation Grant!

We are proud to announce that Nevada Bugs and Butterflies was chosen as a grant recipient of the Helen Close Charitable Foundation, located right in Reno, Nevada! Their generosity will go directly towards quality hands-on science education for youth and families at our outdoor science center and at outreach events throughout 2015. As always, our science center and butterfly house are free to the public and all groups, and contributions from individual donations and grants continue to make our work possible. We are so thankful for the support of the Helen Close Charitable Foundation, and look forward to sharing the wonders of insects with local families throughout the year!

FREE native plant course– attract pollinators to your yard!

Update: We’ve filled our course! Thanks for all those who are interested. Given the number of requests we received, we will almost certainly offer another course later in the year, so keep an eye out as the season progresses.

We are proud to announce a free native plant course taking place out at our butterfly house on May 17th 1-4pm, created as a partnership between Nevada Bugs, the US Fish & Wildlife Schoolyard Habitat program, and RT Permaculture. The topic of this course will be using plants native to Nevada to attract the many different types of beneficial insects that are in our area. Topics will include plant choice and planting techniques that will maximize your site’s usefulness to native insects, an introduction to native insect identification and conservation, and a special highlight on monarch butterfly conservation. Our site owner, Neil, will also lead a tour of his 1-acre permaculture garden, which has many great examples of how to use native plants to attract beneficial insects. In addition, you’ll go home with a set of native plants to plant at your home– for free!

Native insects have several important functions for natural areas and your own back yard– pollination of many crops, control of pest insects, and nutrient cycling to name a few. Many native insect species, like our native bumblebees, are threatened by habitat loss as well as habitat fragmentation, where each habitat patch becomes smaller and less connected to other patches. Increasing pollinator-friendly plants and creating habitat for insects are the best ways to conserve the native species that help make our landscape productive, diverse, and unique. Native plants will also use less water, remain hardier, and be more pest and disease-resistant than many nonnative plants.

The course size is limited, so email Kevin to reserve your spot and help make a difference in conserving our native plants and pollinators! pollinator plant wksp flier

Nevada Bugs t-shirt fundraiser!

2014 was a big success for Nevada Bugs & Butterflies: in one season alone we quadrupled the number of visitors to the Butterfly House & Science Center! Besides welcoming 884 visitors to the butterfly house, we also connected with 2,814 budding scientists who joined us at outreach events held in local schools, libraries, and museums. We’re asking for your support as we extend our reach even further with our end-of-the-year fundraiser. Help us prepare for 2015 by purchasing your own Bugs and Butterflies t-shirt! Shirts are American Apparel and are available in men’s, women’s, children’s, and toddlers’ sizes. They make great gifts and will be delivered in time for the holidays!

For adult men and women, go here:

For children and toddlers, go here:

Because of logo scaling issues, adult and children’s t-shirts are being sold through two different campaigns.

Sure, the butterflies won’t fly again until springtime, but our plans take wing over the winter, when we focus on developing new programming, researching curriculum, training volunteers, and securing supplies for the summer to come. Additionally, outreach in classrooms and community centers continues through the winter months. Your donations allow Nevada Bugs to provide hands-on experiences with Northern Nevada’s native insects all year long!

Sale ends December 5th; get your shirt before it's too late!

Sale ends December 5th; get your shirt before it’s too late!


Herpetology workshop at the butterfly house July 12

Hi everyone! We’re excited to announce our next workshop this Saturday, July 12, from 10:30-11:30 at the butterfly house, with the topic this time being our native reptiles and amphibians. We’ll have two outstanding UNR researchers on site to talk “herps”- Dr. Sarah Snyder is a recent Ph.D graduate of the UNR Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology program and is now a visiting professor for Bard College at Simon’s Rock; and Chava Weitzman is a current Ph.D. student in the Tracy lab working on desert tortoise immune ecology. During the workshop they’ll introduce you to some of our native Nevada reptiles and amphibians and discuss desert reptile biology. They’ll also have live reptiles to show and touch including native frogs, snakes, and lizards, as well as two desert tortoises that have just moved into their new habitat at the butterfly house! This is sure to be a fun, educational, and interactive time, so come check it out!

Leopard lizard eating a grasshopper at the butterfly house

Leopard lizard eating a grasshopper at the butterfly house

Pollinator week continues

Hi everyone! We had an amazing opening day today, with 32 people coming to see the butterfly house. We had such a great time meeting new parents and kids, and planting some anise hyssop seedlings too! We will be open tomorrow (Friday) and Saturday, 10-3, as usual, and we are continuing National Pollinator Week activities with the Great Basin Community Food Co-Op Friday from 6-8 including discussion with Dr. Anne Leonard from UNR. Details below, hope to see you at the butterfly house and the co-op tomorrow!

Pollinators are responsible for creating 1/3 of the food consumed by humans every day!

Pollinators are responsible for creating 1/3 of the food consumed by humans every day!

Opening Day at the butterfly house AND community events for National Pollinator Week!

Next week is a huge week for us at Nevada Bugs and Butterflies! Not only will the butterfly house open for 2014 on Thursday, but the whole week is National Pollinator Week, and Nevada Bugs is proud to be partnering with several local organizations, celebrating the bees, flies, beetles, butterflies, bats, and other animals that pollinate most of the world’s flowers as well as 1/3 of human food crops. Here’s the rundown:

  • On Tuesday, June 17th, we’ll be at the Discovery Museum from 10am-2pm, along with UNR professor Dr. Anne Leonard and her lab, showing off some of our local pollinators and a live bumble bee colony! We’ll also have pollinator seedlings for kids to pot and take home (somewhat limited quantity).
  • The butterfly house opens on Thursday, June 19th! We’ll be open Thursday, Friday, and Saturday 10am-3pm. Come see some of Nevada’s beautiful spring and summer butterflies up close, surrounded by blooming flowers and growing vegetables. You can catch butterflies, grasshoppers, and beetles on the one-acre permaculture garden, observe many species of native bees, and check out our new wooden interpretive signs that are stationed around the property to learn about plants, animals, and garden landscape. Directions to our butterfly house can be found on the Come Visit Us page of our site.
  • On Friday, June 20th we’ll be at the Great Basin Community Food Co-Op from 5:30-7:30pm, where we’ll have a honey tasting with honey collected from different crops, short films about bee pollination and conservation, and a group discussion about local pollinators with Dr. Leonard. This is a great opportunity to learn about the biology and natural history of bees from an expert doing research on them right here in Reno!
  • Finally, on Saturday, June 21st, come on out to the butterfly house anytime between 10am-3pm and make your very own native bee house. These reed structures are easy to make and provide crucial nesting habitat for many different species of cavity-nesting bees. As always, this program is free of charge 🙂

We hope you’ll join us in celebrating your favorite pollinators, be they butterflies or otherwise, all this week and come see us at the butterfly house on the 19th!

Tubular flowers encourage pollinators like this bumble bee to dig deep for nectar, increasing the chance of the flower being pollinated.

Tubular flowers encourage pollinators like this bumble bee to dig deep for nectar, increasing the chance of the flower being pollinated.