Students, Staff Create Milkweed Wonderland for Migrating Monarchs

Shivani Sharma, staff writer of The Mercury — the student newspaper at UT Dallas — wrote this article.

Butterfly Flutterby

Students plant milkweed at one of the monarch butterfly waystations on campus during an Office of Student Volunteerism event. (Photo by Andrew Gallegos/Mercury photo editor)

Butterfly Flutterby, a UT Dallas landscaping project that supports monarch butterfly populations, is playing host to a large migration of butterflies for the first time as they fly from Canada to Mexico.

The project features waystations around campus that contain a variety of milkweed — a native habitat of the dwindling monarch butterfly population. The waystations are located on the disc golf course, the east side of the Eugene McDermott Library and the north side of the Callier Center. They serve as a place for the butterflies to stop during their spring migration and as a habitat restoration project on campus.

“UT Dallas is right in the migratory path,” said Craig Lewis, greenhouse landscape coordinator.

The butterflies lay their eggs on the milkweed. When the eggs hatch, the butterfly larvae (caterpillars) eat the milkweed, grow quickly and transform into butterflies in the pupa stage.

After experimenting with smaller no-mow zones on campus for butterflies, Lewis and Thea Junt, assistant director for energy conservation and sustainability, decided to create an even larger project for monarch butterflies this year.

This project was implemented during an Office of Student Volunteerism (OSV) event in which they grew 540 seeds of several species of milkweed in the greenhouse. Since then, there have been four OSV events that involve planting, sowing seeds and weeding to maintain the waystations.

Lewis said the efforts have proved fruitful.

“Last Thursday, I was by myself working and I stopped counting at 200, because all of a sudden [the butterflies] were everywhere,” Lewis said. “That, to me, was success.”

What’s nice is that … the whole goal is self-sustaining. Once that becomes self-sustaining, it will start spreading as much as the community allows it to.

Craig Lewis,
greenhouse landscape coordinator

Lewis also attributed the waystations’ success to student involvement.

“Without the support of the students and the student body at large … this program would be much smaller,” he said.

The monarch waystations are expected to become stronger during the spring, when monarchs begin their migration from Mexico back to Canada.

“What’s nice is that … the whole goal is self-sustaining,” Lewis said. “Once that becomes self-sustaining, it will start spreading as much as the community allows it to. [The milkweed] will expand for sure, once it gains its own health and stability.”

Lewis said the best time to watch the butterflies at the waystation is right after the sun rises.

“They’re solar creatures. They depend on solar energy as well as the nectar. They have to dry out their wings, which become moist overnight,” Lewis said. “They come out just after the sun is cresting the trees and they’ll sit on a flower mound. And it’s the only time, I’ve noticed, other than when they’re in flight, when their wings are out.”

Dinesh Gundu, an electrical engineering graduate student who has worked on the project, said the results have given him a sense of fulfillment.

“By the last three weeks, I’ve seen at least 10 or 15 butterflies,” he said. “It feels so good … I’m not sure it’s because of what we did, but I really believe it’s because of that, so I feel happy.”

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].