Students Study Monarch Migration and Habitat

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

It was early in the day, prior to regular public hours, when students from Coachella Valley High School (CVHS) visited the Center & Gardens to tag and record monarch butterflies. Armed with nets, freshman through seniors from various classes and clubs gently scooped up the beautiful butterflies that seemed to flood the gardens on November 6.

The morning activities were the first steps in a three-part program developed by the Sunnylands education department. The ultimate goal is to increase public awareness of wildlife conservation and sustainability while also creating a Coachella Valley corridor of milkweed, the monarch’s sole food source in the desert.
On this visit, students learned how to properly tag monarchs and record information. Members of the CVHS environmental club kept note, too, of the butterfly’s activity, tag numbers, and parasite data; those from agricultural and horticultural classes gathered milkweed seeds for planting a garden at the high school. In addition, students studying digital design production used tablets and smart phones to film the activities.

Designed by Michaeleen Gallagher, director of education and environmental programs, the program at Sunnylands will eventually reach out to other local high schools, seeking to create a large milkweed habitat and providing a model for other educational institutions and communities. Sunnylands is part of the Southwest Monarch Project, which studies the behavior of monarch butterflies. Organizations throughout the region participate by tracking and recording migration patterns.

“The students and teachers have shown commitment and passion for this project,” Gallagher said, “which is always a great start, but we are really focused on the long-range results that include engaging in public dialogue to emphasize the importance of creating more habitats for migratory species.”

Environmental science teacher Ken Sleeper said, “This is great training for the students and a great public-private partnership between Sunnylands and Coachella Valley High School in order to restore habitat for monarchs.” Once milkweed at CVHS begins to attract monarchs, students will tag monarch there.

They will also mentor younger students to build their team. As students held the butterflies before releasing them back into the Gardens, their comments included, “cool,” “wow,” and “awesome.”