St. Peter students, Monsanto bring butterfly migration down to earth

Wednesday, April 27, 2016
Fourth-grade students of St. Peter Catholic School, with the help of Marshall FFA, plant milkweed in a plot at Monsanto, in Marshall, April 26. (Sarah Reed/Democrat-News)

A biology lesson had St. Peter Catholic School fourth graders getting their hands dirty Tuesday, April 26.

Monsanto's Joshua Braddock, with the help of other staff members, began a habitat plot for monarch butterflies at the company's North Miami Avenue site. The students arrived to help and to learn more about the insect's importance and frailty.

After showing several videos focused on the biology, habitats and migration patterns of the monarch butterfly, Braddock talked with the students about what they've learned.

"Any little milkweed that we can plant to help them out is extremely helpful for them," he said to the students.

Braddock, a production associate with Monsanto, said this is the first year he has organized the planting. While starting out small, he said he hopes they can grow the activity in the future.

Monarchs contend with a loss of milkweed, regional drought conditions, the use of insecticides and herbicides, and habitat loss in their overwintering locations in California and Mexico. Braddock said some people are already planting milkweed species and butterfly nectar plants in order to create habitats for monarchs as they breed and migrate.

According to information prepared by the Monarch Task Force of the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign, migrating monarchs can "navigate 1,500 miles to a site unknown to them in the fall, live through an overwintering period of five months and then return north to reproduce in the spring for a total lifespan of eight to nine months." The group says most of those joining the migration are several generations removed from the ones that made the trek a year before, and how they find their way to the same groves remains a mystery. An article published at animals.nationalgeographic.com indicates some butterflies migrate as far as 3,000 miles.

"Many scientists are concerned about the eastern population of monarchs, which summer east of the Rocky Mountains. This group is occurring in ever smaller numbers, and its survival may be threatened by a series of natural disasters in the Mexican wintering grounds, as well as by reduced acreage of milkweed plants in their summer home," the article read.

On Tuesday, students were led to a plot where soil had already been prepared and took turns planting milkweed in designated areas.

Members of the Marshall FFA Chapter were on hand, assisting several Monsanto staff members as group leaders during the planting.

Fourth-grade student Jack Donnell, the son of Deanna and Mike Donnell, said he knew some about the butterfly species, but did learn more from the activity.

"It was really fun," he said. "It's really fun digging holes and planting stuff. I mean, we have a farm and I like to do that kind of stuff. It's a tree farm, so we go fishing. We plant stuff that we go deer hunting with so the deers will go eat."

Missouri is one of the central locations in the eastern population's spring breeding area, which means it is a prime location to introduce milkweed back into the habitat.

Contact Sarah Reed at sreed@marshallnews.com

Photo Gallery:
http://www.marshallnews.com/gallery/milkweed-plot

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