As part of an international conservation effort to protect the declining monarch population, University of Richmond students have been raising, tagging, and releasing monarch butterflies.

Under the leadership of biology professor Jennifer Sevin, students in ecology and environmental biology just released 15 butterflies, and a few more will hatch soon.

They tagged each of them with special stickers from Monarch Watch to track the population, which has drastically decreased in recent years. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is currently assessing whether monarchs will be listed as threatened or endangered.

In the butterfly world, monarchs are specialists, meaning they only lay their eggs on milkweed, as opposed to generalists who can use a variety of plants. Decreasing amounts of milkweed and use of pesticides are playing a role in the monarch decline.

Monarchs only have about a 2 to 3 percent survival rate from egg to adult in the wild; however, in captivity that increases to between 70 and 90 percent. That’s why Sevin wanted to engage students in this project.

“The students have been involved in every step and have seen the life cycle of a monarch unfold before their eyes,” said Sevin, an ecologist who studies pollinators. “It’s been a wonderful opportunity to study both the butterflies and conservation efforts.”

“People think about monarchs as the classic butterfly but don’t realize how threatened they are,” said senior Sean Clair, a chemistry major in Sevin’s ecology class. “It’s been wonderful to see the life cycle in person and then apply what we are doing inside the classroom to the outside world.”

“Metamorphosis is amazing,” said senior Jordan Lloyd, a double major in global studies and Latin American, Latino, and Iberian Studies, who is also taking ecology. “I knew the basics but getting to see this process through to releasing them into the wild has been incredible.”

The monarchs will now migrate to Mexico, where they rest over the winter before flying back to the U.S. to lay eggs in early spring.

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