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WINGS AT WORK

Nevada Bugs & Butterflies offers biodiverse bounty.

WRITTEN BY ANN LINDEMANN
PHOTOS BY CANDICE NYANDO 

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Secreted away in Lemmon Valley, 1.3 acres of high desert land pay homage to Northern Nevada’s diverse ecosystem with a special nod to native bugs and butterflies.

“I think with many people, butterflies are the gateway insect,” explains Kevin Burls, co-founder, Nevada Bugs & Butterflies. “They are large, charismatic, and friendly … a great way to learn about life cycle, pollination, and understanding complexities of nature.”

With a Ph.D. in ecology, evolution, and conservation biology from the University of Nevada, Reno, Burls can talk highbrow science with the best of them. But he says, given the choice, he’d rather discuss fascinating insects with second graders who are genuinely intrigued than a group of college students fulfilling an academic requirement.

Burls’ wife and Nevada Bugs & Butterflies co-founder Cynthia Scholl shares this ethos. She holds a master’s degree from UNR; her thesis focused on the local butterfly species Melissa blue.

“I’ve always liked small, surprisingly beautiful things,” Scholl says as one of her thesis subjects furtively alights on her skirt, as if on cue.

Insect dreams

The project began in 2012, when the couple met Neil and Katie Bertrando in a permaculture design course. When Burls and Scholl shared their dream of educating people of all ages about ecological principles and the hardworking Nevada insects that do the pollinating, the Bertrandos essentially offered their permaculture garden to serve as its home.

Funded initially by an online fundraiser and a beer-tasting event, the center opened in July 2013. Since then, most of the summer site programming is funded through private donations. Entry is free, but the couple does charge a fee for school outreach events to cover expenses.

Get bugged

The couple’s enthusiasm for the nonprofit Nevada Bugs & Butterflies center is contagious as they point out countless nature dramas that untrained eyes might miss.

Burls pauses at a sprawling carrot flower bush and offers a spirited play-by-play commentary. He points out two varieties of flies and a myriad of bee species ranging from leafcutter and sweat to bumble bees and honey bees. Then he calls out the many different wasps, a bright black beetle, and numerous ladybugs.

“Of the 4,000 different bees in North America, 1,000 of them are native to Nevada (per Dr. Joseph Wilson of Utah State University),” he says. “And of the 46 different bumble bee species in North America, 23 of them are in Nevada.”

However, the showpiece of the center is the Butterfly House, a mesh-enclosed 12-by-28-foot hoop house. This distinct structure is set on tracks and therefore has two possible season-extending footprints. It’s covered with mesh in the summer and plastic in the winter to allow for cool-weather crops.

Once inside, visitors get an intimate glimpse of rare, native Nevada butterflies gracefully careening around beautiful pollinator plants.

Steps away, a shaded pergola offers visitors up-close-and-personal interactions with beetles, millipedes, and other friendly creepy crawlers. Interactive toys for younger entomologists include insect costumes and life cycle puzzles.

Nearby is the desert tortoise habitat, where Tess, 19, and Watson, 24, may just come out of their cool shelter if some delicate green clover is offered up.

But Scholl says the Butterfly House surely is the highlight of the center.

“When I’m feeling tired and overwhelmed, I come in here because this is what it’s all about,” she says.

Now when writer Ann Lindemann is stressed out, she summons her enchanting Butterfly House memories, and she instantly is calm.

Nevada Bugs & Butterflies is a perfect destination for school groups, families, and gardeners. Open 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. Thurs. – Sat., until Sept. 24. For details, visit http://www.Nevadabugs.org or call 775-276-1393

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