House of bugs
Reno’s best insect house is in Lemmon Valley
How many people in Reno are uniquely qualified to run a bug and butterfly house in their free time?
Kevin Burls and Cynthia Scholl are among the wild ones who, after finishing their graduate work in evolutionary biology (Kevin) and insect ecology (Cynthia), took a chance to bring their love of bugs to the public. The idea came while the couple was in Bishop, California, for their last season of fieldwork as University of Nevada, Reno graduate students in 2011. They were collecting caterpillars.
“We had our heads in a licorice plant in an abandoned lot,” said Scholl. “There were all these different insects and interactions going on in this plant and I thought, ’This is a way, in a relatively small space, that you could share some of the fascinating questions we ask ourselves as ecologists.’ ”
Five years later—and four years after its incorporation as a nonprofit —Nevada Bugs and Butterflies has thousands of visitors under its belt and is looking forward to a big summer.
“We expect to have over 2,000 people here this year,” said Burls. “If we do things right.”
To prepare for the three months out of a year that they are open, Burls and Scholl start collecting native butterfly eggs in mid-May. The eggs are then “reared” in UNR biology labs until the chrysalises hatch, at which point they are trucked out to the bug house. There, the adult females lay a new generation of eggs that will be brought back to the lab to begin the cycle once again.
In addition to raising its own butterflies, the nonprofit spends a good deal of time educating its visitors about the connection between insect population health and habitat. It’s a detail that’s hard to miss given their location—Neil Bertrando’s Steppe One Farm in Lemmon Valley. Dotted with interpretive text and spaces for gathering, the 1.3 acre permaculture property is home to 400 plant species, a dozen types of butterflies, and “really, really amazing bee and wasp diversity,” according to Scholl.
All in all, running the bug and butterfly house is a lot of work for an organization that doesn’t charge its visitors, and—so far—has been built solely on volunteer hours. But that will be changing soon—the part about volunteers, at least. Though admission will always be free at their current location, Burls is gearing up to be Nevada Bugs and Butterflies’ executive director, its first employee.
It’s a development that will allow the organization to spend more time hosting schools and families, more time launching citizen science initiatives, and more time helping visitors develop an eye for observing very small interactions.
“It’s not at the scale of things where we’re normally looking for,” said Burls. “We hear the comments of people that come back to us and say, ’Oh, well, I see butterflies everywhere now!’ So I think a lot of that is just a search image. It’s just knowing what to look for out there, what things are looking like.”