SPP Butterfly Internship Experience

SPP Butterfly Internship Experience

by SPP Undergraduate Intern Chelsea Oldenburg

Editor’s Note: SPP has had the pleasure of working with three wonderful Evergreen undergraduate interns during this spring quarter.  Over the next few weeks, blog visitors will have the chance to read about their experiences in the students’ own words.

After 8 weeks of working with the Sustainability in Prisons Project at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women as an intern for the butterfly program a lot of unexpected things have become commonplace for me. It’s amazing how quickly I acclimate to my surroundings. After only a few days of visiting, the prison guards, razor wire and coveralls seemed normal. As does manipulating the curled proboscis of a butterfly with a paper clip and watching her perfectly paint plantain leaves with bright yellow eggs.

So far my main work this quarter has been facilitating an oviposition preference study that Dennis Aubrey is doing for his masters thesis. This means observing which plants female Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies prefer to lay their eggs on.

The women are carrying out the study five or six days a week and so Dennis, Caitlin (another intern) or I rotate coming out to insure things are running smoothly, bring supplies and run a few of the preference trials ourselves. Usually we also get a chance to help with some of the daily chores of captive rearing. These chores include: feeding adult butterflies a honey-water mixture from a q-tip, transferring eggs into various containers with a paintbrush, freshening water and supplying plantain leaves to hungry caterpillars. Aside from housekeeping and study overseeing there is a lot of time to converse with the women from MCCCW that are working on the project. They seem to truly love the butterflies they are raising and I am always impressed by their fastidiousness, acute observations and consistent positive attitudes. The love seems to go both ways as the butterflies flourish under their care.  A couple of weeks ago I was sent home from The Oregon Zoo with many more larvae, pupae and adult butterflies to bring to MCCCW because of the success with their current stock. Maybe the women at Mission Creek can care for these transforming insects from a place of real understanding as they simultaneously undergo incredible personal transformations themselves.

For the last few weeks of my internship I am excited to erect some raised beds around the butterfly rearing greenhouse. After the frames are built and a lot of soil is shoveled in, we are going to fill the beds with native prairie plants, larval food plants and nectar flowers for feeding the adult butterflies. Two of the women I work with seem genuinely excited to help with the project. Although I will be sorry to end my visits to the prison at the close of this quarter it feels good knowing I will leave behind some nourishing infrastructure.

Want to support innovative educational opportunities and the rearing of endangered butterflies?  Donate to SPP by clicking here.

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