The Next Butterfly Nerd Generation?

 2017 Butterfly Ridge staff.

2017 Butterfly Ridge staff.

While attending the field trip orientation meeting for the Texas Butterfly Festival, the Director of the National Butterfly Center cracked a joke when addressing the crowd. I’m not sure if it was a planned joke or if it was one of those spontaneous “I opened mouth and out it came” moments.

So anyways, Marianna Trevino-Wright was mentioning the importance of using bug spray on the field trips, as there was a large mosquito outbreak in the Rio Grande Valley due to a wetter than normal autumn. The topic of Zika virus then was mentioned. Marianna looked around the room and commented that only one particular young lady was still fertile so most of us really had no reason to worry about Zika. The room erupted in laughter.

The lone young lady who had to worry about Zika was the only female in the room under the age of fifty. I also only observed one man who was definitely under the ago of fifty. As I have attended meetings of the state-wide Ohio butterfly club I have made similar observations. So, why is butterfly hunting only an interest of . . . old people?

Perhaps I can understand a lack of youth at the Texas Butterfly Festival. It is somewhat pricey, out-of-the-way, and occupies two weekdays. I can understand it would be a stretch for college students to steal a couple of class days in early November, or have the money to even get there. But this doesn’t explain the lack of interest at the Ohio annual meeting which is free and on a Saturday in January.

I have also noticed a lack of youth at the various talks I have given at garden clubs, master gardeners, and general community events. Recently I heard an interview of a college student who is now an organizer for a youth birding organization. She commented that when she would go birding as a junior and senior high school student, she was the only person her age in the group.

Why are young people moving away from the natural sciences? I think in part it relates to the emphasis on standardized testing in the primary and secondary grades. Along with the emphasis on testing has been a marked de-emphasis of school field trips. Modern day students are not going to get an outdoor nature experience, unless the child has a family who goes out into nature.

It is hard to turn kids on to bugs if they are terrified of them, thinking every bug is venomous. I had a brief stint working for Audubon in an urban setting. We had inner-city kids come out on field trips who seriously thought a lion was lurking behind every tree . . . in Ohio. Because, those children’s only nature experiences were derived from watching scary nature shows on television.

At some point all of us old, Zika-immune nature nerds will die off. Who will be the young people that will take our places? At Butterfly Ridge we try to encourage young people to go into natural sciences. We offer scholarships to students who will be studying natural sciences plus we give summer jobs to provide field experiences. What else can be done? What are some of your ideas?