Ask any third grader at Monticello Elementary about the plight of the Monarch butterfly and they should be able to tell you how they are declining and what they have been trying to do about it in their classrooms. The project is a result of the Wayne County Conservation District’s efforts and recently formed Junior Conservation Club.
The partnership has created raised beds in the renovated courtyard, along with another bed behind the cafeteria that has become a pollinator garden for the butterflies. The stalky flowers the conservationists planted from seed are currently in full bloom with a rainbow of colored zinnias, sunflowers and cosmos. Their beautiful blooms will serve as nectar for the emerging butterflies. The team of teenagers and conservation district staffers have been working on this project for months in anticipation of populating more Monarch butterflies, by providing a rearing station.
Conservation Technician/Wayne County School Bus Driver Lynn Slagle spent many evenings during the hot summer months building over a dozen butterfly box cages for third grade and special needs classrooms. His partner on the project, Wayne County Conservation Administrative Secretary Diane Cushman then painted the frames of the boxes that hold the wire cages in place.
Just recently, the big day finally arrived at school when Slagle delivered, not only the boxes, but the tiny larva that come out of an egg. The club members placed five larva in each of the cages which had water bottles filled with milkweed that they could rest upon and dine on. “They are fussy eaters….they’ll only eat milkweed,” Cushman told the third graders. “They have to eat lots of milkweed, about 18 leaves in 18 days. So, they will be doing some serious eating.”
Cushman, the local club’s advisor, delivered lots of information as the young students listened in the courtyard. She had a Monarch (Danaus plexippus) colored poster for the students to visualize the growth process. The ‘icing on the cake’ was her explanation of the amazing butterfly lifecycle story.
The children were excited to learn what would happen right before their eyes during the 30 days from birth to the adult stage. The larva (or caterpillar) is inside the egg. As the process evolves, the caterpillar bodies transform into green chrysalis cocoons around the 18th day of their development. The developing butterfly takes another 10-14 days growing inside the chrysalis, to become a butterfly. Just on cue, hopefully not on a weekend or evening when the students are not at school, the butterfly splits the thin chrysalis wall, emerges, and hangs from the chrysalis shell for a few hours. While hanging, it will move fluid from its body to its wings in preparation for flight.
“Once the adult butterfly emerges, it does not grow anymore,” said Cushman. “But, it does need food to maintain its body and energy to fly. Butterflies depend on nectar for their food. That is why we planted the flowers before we started raising butterflies.”
The conservationists told the classes, if they anticipated the butterflies emerging over the weekend, they would need to place a vase of flowers in the cage so the butterflies would have nectar available. “When the butterflies come out they will be hungry,” Cushman explained.
The next step would be to tag the butterflies before releasing them in either the courtyard garden, where the butterfly beds would provide all kinds of food or the 1,000 square foot pollinator garden just behind the school.
The children learned that once they are released, they have a big trip ahead of them. They can fly over 2,000 miles to Mexico. To be exact, it is 2,031 miles from Monticello Elementary to Oaxaca, Mexico. Slagle added, “They travel 25 to 30 miles a day, taking 2 to 2.5 months to travel.”
It would take the average person walking 24-hours a day 28 days, or a total of 664 hours to make the journey, noted the conservationists.
Cushman explained the butterflies do not come back because of their life expectancy, however their babies will return to Monticello. The butterflies lay their eggs on the milkweed leaves out in the wild and the life cycle begins again. When asked how this miracle happens that they can navigate to Monticello, Cushman said scientists think it might be a result of a magnetic gravitation. Most of their flying time is gliding with the wind because there is no way they could flap their wings the entire way.
The local school project joins work done by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Monarch Watch where the emerging butterflies are captured and tagged to help collect data on vulnerable migrating Monarchs. Chances are slim that one of the local tagged butterflies will be recovered after they migrate to central Mexico, so scientists can gain information like timing and pace of the trip. But, there is nothing that would delight the conservationists more than if someone recovered one of the Monticello School butterflies.
After going through several months of work, the Monarch Waystation project at Monticello School has been a success thanks to the teenage and adult conservationists.
Just after fall break, the butterflies were ready to be released. For those that had emerged early, flowers had been placed in their cages so they could begin storing food. The release was nothing short of a NASA lift off in the minds of some 200 students who had followed their development. Each class was escorted out back to the spectacular pollinator garden to see the launch from their classroom box. The magical garden had arose from a gravel area behind the school cafeteria, perfectly timed for the release. Last summer, the local conservationists had transformed the rocky land over several days of tilling to make the 1,000 square foot temporary home for the released butterflies. Roundstone Seeds donated $100 worth of the flower seed mixture.
The students had taken a personal interest after seeing the development of the Monarchs in their classrooms. “These are our class pets,” said Monticello Elementary Teacher Jamie Tipton.
The Monarch Waystation project at Monticello School has been a success thanks to the teenage and adult conservationists, capped off with the children’s’ fascination with the program.
“This has been worthwhile for the kids and it has been worthwhile for us,” said Conservationist Lynn Slagle, after the release.
Colorfully painted butterfly boxes arrive at school after Conservationist Lynn Slagle built the boxes over the summer.
The Junior Conservation Club and their sponsors put a lot of thought into the Butterfly Project before the elementary students became a part of the educational outreach component. The Club constructed the new beds in the courtyard at Monticello School and planted the seeds to grow zinnias, sunflowers, and cosmos. WCHS Junior Kathren Crabtree weeded the flowers that attract butterflies in the raised beds.
Third grader Jase Sexton and classmates look at tiny Monarch larvae that will be placed in their classroom butterfly box that the conservationists brought to school to start the evolution of the Monarch butterflies.
Conservationist Technician/School Bus Driver Lynn Slagle helping student look at larvae which will start growing inside the butterfly cage.
Conservationist Diane Cushman explains that the caterpillars eat milkweed which they will put in their butterfly boxes.
Conservation Club Sponsor Diane Cushman explains how a butterfly develops with the help of Junior Conservationist Brylee Chriswell, Jenna R. Morrow and Kathren Crabtree.
Third graders outside in the courtyard ready to receive their butterfly box for their classroom so they can observe the process.
Conservationist Lynn Slagle hands Teacher Sarah Bertram a cup of larvae to be placed in their box.
Junior Conservationist put the milkweed in vases so the emerging butterflies are supplied with food inside each box.
Teacher Jayla Baker and her students look at larvae that will soon turn into a caterpillar up close.
Monticello Elementary student Sophia Morrow looks at the Chrysalis' inside the butterfly box in one of the classrooms a few weeks later.
A Chrysalis formed midway through the process inside one of the butterfly boxes.
Butterfly Release Day
Monticello Elementary Assistant Principal Mitchell Gregory explains to the students how they are going to participate.
Butterflies emerged inside boxes after the students studied the Monarch lifecycle program inside their classrooms during September.
Students were excited to get the chance to see the butterflies they raised released into the beautiful 1,000 square foot pollinator garden behind the school. The butterflies will eventually migrate South after they stock up on nectar from the beautiful patch of flowers.
Wayne County Conservation District Employees Diane Cushman and Lynn Slagle show students the stickers placed on butterfly wings so they can be tracked on their journey.
Tagged butterflies inside the boxes before the release.
Isaac Stinson checks out the butterfly boxes up close.
The students got to see the various classrooms' butterflies about to be released as each class got to participate in the launch.
Diane Cushman let some of the students touch one of the Monarchs.
Gracie Catron got a close up look at a tagged Monarch
Junior Conservationist Madelyn Frogge explained the migration process to (l-r:) Kainen Rednour and Keelan Ramsey
Lynn Slagle shows students (l-r:) Urhyia Johnson, Aydan Smith, and Colton Adams their butterflies just before the release.
Lynn Slagle releases a butterfly for a class.
Lynn Slagle provides 'lift off' for one of the students' boxes.
Hannah Parmley's class waving goodbye to their butterflies
Students wishing butterflies well as they start their new journey
Students Kayley Baker, Ana Pastor Hernendez, and Taylor Wilson enjoy picking flowers in the butterfly garden
Butterfly finds a new food source once is leaves its box in the back of Monticello School where the second butterfly garden emerged from gravel that had to be prepared before the $100 worth of donated Roundstone Seeds were planted.
A butterfly lands on a Cosmos to gather food. The Conservation Club planted the seeds for the flowers this past summer in hopes of providing a food source for the butterflies before they started their migration to Mexico.