College students learning about milkweed, caterpillars with hands-on experience

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STROUD TOWNSHIP, MONROE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV)    While milkweed sap is toxic to most critters, it is the host for monarch butterfly caterpillars.

       But over the last two decades, the butterflies have been disappearing and the decline of milkweed is the main reason. 

          Photojournalist Tom Gregory met up with a group from East Stroudsburg University studying the plant and some of the insects drawn to it… At the Forever-Green Nature preserve in Stroud Township.

“This week it’s 128 centimeters high” noted ESU Assistant Professor Emily Rollinson.

“We have been studying this milkweed for about a year now. It’s called milkweed because you can see this white sap in all the leaves” said Emily Rollinson, Assistant Professor of Biology at ESU.

She is our guide on this milkweed mission.

  “It’s an interest to us primary because it is a host plant for Monarch Butterfly caterpillars which have been facing a serious decline over the last twenty years or so” Rollinson explains.

She shows us, “Here’s a caterpillar. The eggs are laid on this plant and the caterpillars grow up on this plant and they can tolerate the toxins that this plant produce and they actually absorb it and use it to defend themselves. Those caterpillars and butterflies become toxic because they’re absorbing the toxin from this plant.

“So what this insect will do is kind of munch into the vein on the leaf” notes Rollinson.  Adding “This is a great place for our students to get out and do field research. There’s nothing that can really substitute to having that hands -on with the things they’re learning about in class.

    “Something that I bring back along with other students to the classroom is when we research here at evergreen and other field labs is the experience and a lot of data,” said Benjamin Hawes, ESU Graduate Student.

   Shannon Gardner, Outreach Coordinator Pocono Heritage Land Trust explains “What has happened is it’s become a really great community resource for schools and other non-profit

 groups to use the building as a facility and meeting place and also the property. In ESU’s case doing academic research which is really neat.

Development and herbicide use in agriculture that kill the plants is part of the reason milkweed is disappearing.

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