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Washington State Prisoners Raise and Release Monarch Butterflies

Some recent news article describe how prison inmates in Washington State are participating in a program that helps track the migration of monarch butterflies. The prisoners, who call themselves “the butterfly wranglers,” raise the insects from the egg stage, then they tag them and release them into the wild.

David James, an associate professor of entomology at Washington State University, captured 10 female monarchs, which laid about 3,000 eggs on milkweed plants in his lab. He then gave the egg-laced milkweed plants to the inmates, who raised the caterpillars into butterflies.

Dr. James describes the program in this video from July, 2012:

“The program really helps give us information on where they are going and the routes they have taken,” James said. “Part of the project is to see where they migrate so we can better manage resources for them.”

Besides that, the program helps the inmates deal with prison life.

“It’s a stress relief for me,” said 30-year-old Alex Littlebear, who is serving a 13-year sentence for manslaughter. “This has got me to appreciate butterflies now that I’ve seen them grow.”

“Knowing that I have so long to do, this makes it easier,” said Joshua Vance, a 26-year-old who is serving a 30-year-sentence for murder. “It lets me know that there is more to life.”

Cathy Bly, a mental health counselor at the prison, agrees.

“It teaches them pro-social behavior,” she said. “Most of these guys are going to get out. If you just warehouse them in a cell, they won’t learn anything.”

Read more at:

Walla Walla inmates raise and release monarch butterflies

Inmates raise monarch butterflies to help scientists follow migration patterns

State prisoners give Monarch project wings

Butterfly program gains wings at prison

Inmates, tagging and… butterflies?


  1. We would love to host a Wild Collection Program that picks pods from A. speciosa, Showy Milkweed. If you know a contact, or someone in the area who would want to take it on in Washington, let us know! Thanks.

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