Luther College student researches butterfly diversity and monarch butterflies

August 31, 2017

Monarch butterfly populations increase dramatically over the course of several generations each summer in Iowa, then early each fall the adults travel about 2,000 miles south to Mexico to spend the winter. This unique migratory phenomenon is threatened due to a dramatic decline in the monarch populations.  Elizabeth Glennon, Luther College junior of Saint Louis Park, Minnesota, is studying butterfly diversity in prairies and specifically the use of milkweeds by monarch butterflies as part of her summer research at the college.

Glennon, the daughter of Michael and Lorraine Glennon, of Saint Louis Park, is a 2015 graduate of Saint Louis Park High School. She is majoring in biology at Luther.

“This experience has helped me understand how learning about science can happen outside of a classroom setting, and it is great to see how such research works first-hand,” said Glennon.

Glennon is working with Kirk Larsen, Luther professor of biology, Anna Li Holey, a senior environmental studies major, and local elementary school teacher Laurie Adrian on this ongoing project.

The group is surveying the butterfly diversity in nine Winneshiek county prairies while also studying the life cycles and milkweed use of monarch butterflies. They hope to better understand year to year population fluctuations of monarchs and other butterflies native to the region and how milkweeds are used by the monarchs in order to better protect them in the future. Over the last 20 years, the abundance of many butterfly species have decreased, negatively impacting the ecosystems in which they play an important role.

The group’s collaboration is funded through a grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and this project is affiliated with the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium, of which Luther is a member. Luther’s Student-Faculty Summer Research projects provide students an opportunity to research topics of interest alongside Luther faculty. This program is one of a wide selection of experiential learning opportunities at Luther intended to deepen the learning process and that are part of Luther’s academic core.

The results of the project will be presented at the national meeting of the Entomological

Society of America in Denver, Colorado, in November and at Luther’s Student Research Symposium in 2018.

A national liberal arts college with an enrollment of 2,150, Luther offers an academic curriculum that leads to the Bachelor of Arts degree in more than 60 majors and pre-professional programs. For more information about Luther visit the college’s website: