Don´t worry, the title is the probably the most shocking part of today´s post 🙂
I am currently at the Butterfly Conservation Symposium in Southhampton, England. Here, “butterfly-ers” and “moth-ers” from all over the world meet, and many of them present astonishing projects, which they conduct with the stamina that only passion can endow.
David James from Washington State University was puzzled with the question why the famous Monarch butterfly isn´t as abundant in western part of the USA as it is in the eastern part, even though the hostplant of that species (the Common milkweed) was abundant. He suspected that the alarmingly increasing use of the pesticide roundup, genetically modified crops and use of neonicotinoids might have a deteriorating effect on the Monarch. To find out more about the whereabouts of that butterfly, he started tagging of individuals. With monarchs occurring in huge flocks, he needed to release a large number of tagged butterflies to eventually enlarge the change of reflux from citizen reporting. But where to get all those butterflies? Mass rearing! However, the caterpillars of the monarch are very sensitive and need high hygienic standards to survive. This all being an enourmous effort, David looked for help – and found it in Penitentiary Offenders!
The project “Sustainable Prisons” allows prisoners to participate in Citizen Science projects. Some of his helpers were accused of mass murderers and had life imprisonment. David reported that some of the offenders might have never seen nature at all! And here, they contribute to a large and interesting research project. With their pedantic cleanliness, the offenders achieved a survival rate of the larvae of 80-90 percent, whereas in nature these rates are much much lower (~ 2 percent). However, when placin a tag on the underwing of the butterfly, David had to convince the men that it won´t hurt or affect the butterfly too much. What I found wonderful about his project was that unintentionally, David had brought hope into prison. “Watching the metamorphosis of butterflies”, so said one of the prisoners, “shows us what we are trying to do, too: To change and become something else, something better”.
You can find more information about the project here: http://news.cahnrs.wsu.edu/2012/07/02/wsu-monarch-butterfly-project-underway-with-help-from-washington-state-penitentiary-offenders/