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AWC builds for butterflies
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What began earlier this year as a few rows of milkweed plants in an agriculture field at Arizona Western College is now a garden of over 2,500 plants attracting any butterfly that might be traveling nearby.
A group of about 50 environmental science and biology students worked to transplant milkweed plants for their campus greenhouse into the field in September. Now they have many caterpillars and butterflies feasting on the plants and their nectar.
The butterfly garden is intended to be a way to help support monarch butterflies and their declining population, said Ted Martinez, professor of biology at AWC.
“We have students monitoring the plants, finding out how tall they get, what kind of bugs show up on them and if we're getting any monarchs, which we're hoping for,” he said.
So far Martinez reported that there have been mostly queen butterflies in the garden and he added that he is considering purchasing some monarchs online to expedite the process of attracting a larger population of butterflies.
Sandra Lackey, an environmental science major student at AWC, said that monarchs used to be a lot more common in the Yuma area and they are trying to make that a reality once again.
“Now that we're trying to do this it's showing a whole other aspect to what really was here before, what we've missed out on over the years,” she said. “We're trying to bring back something that most people don't even think of. Butterflies are not a big topic to most people.”
“They should be though,” added biology student Priscila Navarrete. “If you really think about it, it is a big topic because without them you couldn't really pollinate plants.”
The Milkweed Project at AWC is funded by a grant from the Xerces Society, an arthropod conservation organization whose goal is species conservation.
“We're doing this because Xerces Society, they were looking for partners and they actually came and did a site visit and they actually visited other places and chose us,” he said. “They gave us a small amount of seed and at the end of the contract we will give them back that seed amplified. When the pods give out seeds we're going to collect it and give it back to them. They're looking for a return on their investment ... the idea being they can take that seed and distribute it to more partners. It's going to be a multi-year project.”
He explained that the students will be responsible for putting bags over the milkweed seed pods so that when the pod ruptures, the seeds will be in the bag and not scattered all over the ground.
“The whole project is a great learning experience for the environmental science and biology majors. It gets the students outside the classroom so they can learn out there on the field,” said Martinez. “It's also a resume builder; these kinds of experiences of conservation volunteering can go on their resume and all of the students are looking for jobs and careers in the future.”
For more information contact Martinez at Ted.Martinez@azwestern.edu or 344-7705.