Undergraduate Matthew Zach (left) and graduate student Paige Arnold care for one of their monarch butterfly subjects.
STUDENT RESEARCHERS SEEK OPTIMAL DIET FOR MONARCHS
In a small, warm room in the Life Sciences Building, rows of white mesh tepees housing monarch butterflies are lined up on tables. The fabled, orange and black insects are carefully tended and monitored by BGSU conservation biology students Paige Arnold, a second–year graduate student from Temperance, Mich., and Matthew Zach, a junior from Fairview Park, Ohio.
Every day, Arnold and Zach delicately unfurl the monarchs' tiny proboscises – strawlike mouth parts for sipping nectar – and place them onto simulated flowers holding containers of nectar so they may drink in the sweet solution. The students make note of the butterflies' mating and the number of eggs they are laying on the milkweed leaves in their mesh homes. When those eggs begin to hatch, Zach will count and assess the caterpillars for how robust they are, and which develop most quickly.
All this activity, which has to happen within the butterflies' relatively short reproduction season, is the subject of Arnold's research for her graduate thesis. Zach, who plans to become an entomologist, is also collecting data for his undergraduate research project. Both are students of Dr. Helen Michaels, biology.
The work Arnold and Zach are doing may one day provide insight into what plants are most beneficial to monarchs and help guide conservation and restoration efforts. Arnold has already been asked to write an article for Wild Ones, a national not–for–profit organization that promotes biodiversity by encouraging the growing of native plants in backyards as habitat for insects and other wildlife.