Program at Moorpark created to teach students ways to save endangered San Pedro blue butterfly

BY ERIC LEACH, Staff Writer
LA Daily News

MOORPARK - America's Teaching Zoo at Moorpark College is branching out this year with a new program training students to help save an endangered species of butterfly.
The program will focus on breeding and caring for the Palos Verdes blue butterfly, one of the most endangered butterflies in the world, said Jana Johnson, a part-time member of the biology faculty who is helping to bring the program to the college.
"These butterflies were thought to have been extinct for 11 years, and to be able to recover from that is stunning," she said. "It's going to be huge. ... These students will be the conservation biologists of tomorrow."
Officials said the Palos Verdes blue butterfly was feared extinct after it had not been seen for more than 10 years. Then it was rediscovered in 1994 feeding on locoweed and deerweed in the Palos Verdes-San Pedro area.
There were only about 75 of the butterflies believed to be in existence in 1994, and there are now a few hundred, said officials who also have a stock of about 600 dormant pupae kept in refrigeration to be used in the recovery program.
The decline of the butterfly's population has been attributed to the development of the Palos Verdes area and the disappearance of favorite plants it feeds on.
Johnson has been working for years for the Urban Wildlands Group, which has been trying to save the postage-stamp-size butterflies under a contract for the U.S. Navy and the federal Defense Logistics Agency.
"The ability to have students work on this project is going to help us reintroduce the butterfly to parts of its range from which it has disappeared," said Travis Longcore, science director of the Urban Wildlife Group. "A second breeding site at Moorpark will provide important insurance against any unexpected problems in San Pedro."
Johnson said results in 2006 were encouraging.
"We hand-fed our butterflies every day. It allowed us to extend their lives from a few days to over 30. The more days they are alive, the more eggs they can lay," she said. "If we experience the population explosion in 2007 that we experienced in 2006, we will be able to release to the wild in 2008."
The butterflies raised in Moorpark will be released back onto the Palos Verdes Peninsula where they come from and where they can find their favorite foods in the wild, she said.
At Moorpark, she is working with Michlyn Hines of the college's Exotic Animal Training and Management Program. The Moorpark effort will be under a permit from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.
The primary site for rearing the endangered butterfly is at the Defense Fuel Support Point in San Pedro, where butterfly pupae are expected to be taken from refrigeration and moved to Moorpark on Feb. 13.
"I think it's wonderful the college can partner in this very worthwhile endeavor," said Jeanne Brown, a spokeswoman for the college.
The Moorpark program is seeking sponsors to help build a greenhouse and an enclosure for the butterflies before they arrive, Johnson said. Paid and volunteer jobs are available for qualified Moorpark students who want to work on the project.
The program is also hoping to develop a documentary on the captive rearing and restoration efforts.