Students and faculty in the Wildlife Technology Program at Penn State DuBois will do their part to save an iconic species of butterfly from possible extinction beginning this year. A butterfly nursery is currently being established in a small courtyard in the Swift Building on campus, where monarch butterflies will be raised and released into the wild. The nursery will help to bolster the dwindling monarch population which has suffered in recent years due to changes in its environment and food supply, including territory in Mexico where the entire monarch population migrates for winter.
"Monarch numbers have declined by approximately 90 percent in the last 20 years. The overwintering population in Mexico, which pretty much contains every monarch from the Eastern US and Canada covered only about 1.7 acres the winter before last," explained Senior Instructor in Wildlife Technology Keely Roen, who is leading the nursery project. "We are losing monarchs because of destruction of their winter habitat in Mexico and the loss of milkweed in the US. It could also be the overuse of herbicides and insecticides and extreme weather from climate change. The good news is there are a lot of efforts going on to restore and plant milkweed and nectar plants for the adults. More and more people are starting to plant these in their gardens and raise monarchs."
The nursery will contain beds planted with milkweed, wildflowers, and other plants necessary for the monarchs to thrive. Larva will be brought to campus in August, and will be cared for, along with the rest of the nursery, by students, providing real-world learning opportunities.
"The wildlife program is very hands on and we have been capturing, weighing, measuring, tagging and releasing monarchs for years," Roen said. "Two years ago we had to rely completely on reared monarchs because we simply couldn’t find any. Last year was better. However, I thought if we could incorporate a larger-scale project into the course that could benefit the campus and literally be part of helping a potentially endangered species, why not? Students will have the opportunity to learn so much from the butterflies, but also about managing the daily operations and logistics of a project like this."
Once the butterflies have matured, they will be release from campus, into the wild, in September.
Penn State DuBois partnered with BUDS Garden Club and Jefferson County Master Gardeners to establish the nursery gardens.
To follow the butterfly nursery project, visit http://dubois.psu.edu/Monarch