2007-02-16 / Community

Butterfly project takes flight at Moorpark College

By Sylvie Belmond belmond@theacorn.com

BILL SPARKES/Acorn Newspapers NEW ARRIVAL- Jana Johnson of the Exotic Animal Training and Management Program at America's Teaching Zoo at Moorpark College describes the Palos Verde Blue butterfly project to invited guests at the college recently. BILL SPARKES/Acorn Newspapers NEW ARRIVAL- Jana Johnson of the Exotic Animal Training and Management Program at America's Teaching Zoo at Moorpark College describes the Palos Verde Blue butterfly project to invited guests at the college recently. America's Teaching Zoo at Moorpark College has been given the rare opportunity to participate in an endangered species captive rearing program.

The mood was cheerful as Fish and Game, U.S. Navy, college and conservation leaders celebrated the arrival of Palos Verdes Blue butterfly pupae at the campus on Tuesday morning. Students from nearby Campus Canyon Elementary School were also on hand for a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Last fall Jana Johnson, who teaches biology at Moorpark College, and Michlyn Hines, Teaching Zoo operations supervisor, obtained a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service permit to establish a secondary captive rearing site for the endangered butterfly.

"Preservation is important because species are like rivets that keep the earth alive. You don't know which rivet is the key that keeps the entire link together," said Johnson. Palos Verdes Blue butterflies were nearly wiped out by human encroachment, she said.

Photo courtesyof Daniel Soyka Beran DELICATE SURVIVOR- The Palos Verde Blue butterfly was listed as an endangered species in 1980. The Teaching Zoo at Moorpark College is providing a captive rearing site to encourage the survival of the butterfly. For further information, call (805) 378-1441. Photo courtesyof Daniel Soyka Beran DELICATE SURVIVOR- The Palos Verde Blue butterfly was listed as an endangered species in 1980. The Teaching Zoo at Moorpark College is providing a captive rearing site to encourage the survival of the butterfly. For further information, call (805) 378-1441. The Palos Verdes Blue species was thought to be extinct until a few were found in 1994. The initial project to save them was labor-intensive but successful.

There are about 200 butterfly species in California and several of them are endangered, said Gordon Pratt, an entomologist at UC Riverside.

The "Blue" is arguably the most endangered butterfly in the world, said Johnson, whose goal is for the Moorpark site to breed new specimens by 2008. Previous Blue butterfly breeding sites didn't work, Johnson said, but she's convinced the dedication of the Moorpark College students will contribute to the success of this endeavor.

The primary breeding location in the U.S. is at the Defense Fuel Support Center in San Pedro. That area holds more fuel than all the gas stations in California combined, said Barbara Dye, executive director of the Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy.

Palos Verde Blue butterfly pupa Palos Verde Blue butterfly pupa "It's interesting that military land is a refuge," she said.

The local breeding program is a cooperative conservation effort, said Marie Panec, chair of the life science department at Moorpark College.

Gretchen Bickert, registrar for the Phoenix Zoo, attended the event and will participate in the rearing program.

"We're really big on conservation," she said. The Phoenix Zoo will provide assistance with data management and help track the progress of the new rearing site.

"I'm totally excited by this project," Bickert said.

Butterflies are charismatic creatures that represent hope, said Johnson, adding that she aims to increase the lifespan of the captive population and eventually release some of the creatures back into the wild.

"Little things are so tremendously important," said Larry Miller, chairman of the board for the Ventura Community College District. Miller was a biology teacher at Moorpark in the 1970s when the Training Zoo was started. He said he was pleased about the evolution of the small zoo and the services it provides to students and the community as a whole.

In addition to attempting to save the species, the nurturing of rare specimens will provide a unique experience for students enrolled in the Exotic Animal Training and Management Program at the college. Some biology and training zoo students will be allowed to work hands on with the butterfly specimens. Students will get CSU transfer credits for their efforts, Johnson said.

"It's our constant focus to teach students and remind one another the importance of conservancy," said Moorpark College President Eva Conrad.

The college is also working on outreach programs to make the public aware of the program's conservation efforts.

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