Students at Harkers Island Elementary School are helping the Bogue Bank’s butterfly. The crystal skipper, identified by its brown wings and white spots, is native to North Carolina’s coast. Science teacher Miriam Sutton was inspired by an article in the Spring 2007 issue of Coastwatch, entitled “Bogue’s New Butterfly.” The story explains how North Carolina Sea Grant funded research about the butterfly by Nick Haddad, a biologist at North Carolina State University, and his then-doctoral student Allison Leidner.

Haddad and Leidner found that the newly discovered species is drawn to the plant Schizachyrium scoparium, better known as seaside little bluestem.

Sutton was interested in planting little bluestem with her students to promote the population growth of crystal skippers. She received a Bright Ideas Grant from North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives in 2009 to support her efforts.

This year, Sutton’s class is preparing to use a greenhouse to grow little bluestem, which will eventually be planted around the school and hopefully be used as habitat by the crystal skipper. The Carlson Family Foundation funded the greenhouse and planting materials.

“The kids have monitored the growth of the little bluestem plants and are very excited that their plants will adorn the school next year. More plants will be germinated next fall and the greenhouse will be used through the winter season, with hope for next spring’s planting season,” Sutton says.

Haddad mentions that any effort to raise the population of the crystal skipper using this plant is beneficial.

“I think it is fantastic that a class is engaged in this effort,” he notes.

Sutton and her class also are involved in a project to clear overgrowth in the rain gardens at the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum and Heritage Center, as well as the Cape Lookout Visitors Center.

Sutton hopes to have the students reintroduce native plants to the museum and the visitors center, as well as surrounding areas.

“That’s the kind of activity that really inspires me,” Leidner notes. “It’s really the heritage of the people who live there.”

To check on the greenhouse project, visit the Facebook page Science by the Sea.

This article was published in the Summer 2013 issue of Coastwatch.

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