For years, as soon as the spring air thawed the frosty ground, Denise Moczygemba could walk to the meadow in front of her Killeen home and find anywhere from 40 to 100 monarch butterfly eggs nestled among her milkweed plants.
But last spring, Moczygemba found her plants bereft of butterfly eggs. She and her Junior Girl Scout Troop 6246 decided to encourage more people to plant milkweed — monarch butterflies’ sole food source. However, a brief drive around the Killeen area proved milkweed wasn’t the problem.
“We found lots of milkweed,” Moczygemba said. “It was the butterflies that were missing.”
After learning the monarch butterfly population is declining — due mainly to illegal logging in Mexico, where they migrate for the winter — Moczygemba and her troop decided to raise awareness of the butterflies’ plight for their Bronze Award project, the highest honor a Junior Girl Scout can achieve.
The girls sowed flower seeds in Moczygemba’s meadow so the butterflies could find nectar, then built a butterfly house and set up a butterfly feeding station. Additionally, they registered the property as a Butterfly Habitat with the North American Butterfly Association and visited Zilker Botanical Gardens in Austin, where all five of the girls each planted two host plants.
“We learned that there’s a type of Spanish plant that some people need to cut down, because butterflies lay eggs on it automatically,” said Girl Scout Cassidy Williams, 12, referring to a milkweed plant found in Mexico that is not annual, meaning butterflies’ eggs won’t survive the fall.
Not satisfied with that, the troop decided to raise awareness of the milkweed plant so it could be better protected. Together, they wrote a children’s book called “The Butterfly Story,” teaching readers what they learned. Moczygemba employed the help of an artist friend for illustrations, and printed the books herself. She gave a copy to officials at Zilker Park.
“I’m really proud that they were able to work together,” Moczygemba said. “They came up with different ideas and put together a good story.”
The girls also choreographed a ballet version of their children’s book, and a director of a local ballet company agreed to produce it. Now, they await the spring, when they hope more butterflies will thrive due to their work.
“This project taught them about preserving the world, and about looking out for other things that can’t look out for themselves,” Moczygemba said.
“We saved butterflies,” said in Hayley Billingsley, 11, Moczygemba’s granddaughter.