Science in Nature Update
By Coleen Ryan, Science in Nature Coordinator
During September, the students have been learning about Monarch caterpillars and their incredible transformation. Monarch butterflies are indeed beautiful to behold, and they are also important pollinators in the ecosystem. They eat plenty of weedy plants and provide a food source for other animals. Their presence or absence can tell us a lot about the local environment.
This September we have been fortunate to encounter many Monarch caterpillars, more than the two previous years combined! This is surprising as the current statistics on Monarch populations show they have been in steady decline. While this is true as a global issue, we help the children focus on what positive influence we can have in our local Moraine Farm environment. Sharing about negative global issues with children, especially those younger than fourth grade can be too abstract and overwhelming for them. It can have the opposite effect than is intended, leading them to be less caring about the environment and more fearful and disconnected instead. To be involved, and have positive influence on these butterflies’ survival allows the students to feel connected to, and proud of their contributions to these beloved local favorites. It also allows the students and community pause to witness a very special transformation that would otherwise go unseen in the busyness of our lives.
Check out a molting Monarch caterpillar! They do this many times, shedding their skin as they grow.
For the past three weeks the students have been gently collecting the caterpillars, bringing them inside where they continue to eat and grow at an impressive rate. At this time we have over 50 chrysalises and they are now starting to emerge as butterflies. During the summer the butterflies in our area emerge and reproduce. The butterflies that are now coming out will not spend any of their built-up energy on reproduction; instead they will head south, through Florida and into the mountains of Mexico. There they will spend the winter. The Monarch’s migration is thought to be brought on by seasonal changes such as the shorter length of days and cooler temperatures.
For the first time this fall our school is participating in a Monarch tagging effort organized by Monarchwatch.org. As the Monarchs emerge each class will have an opportunity to identify what gender they are and affix a small sticker to their wing. That information will then be recorded online. The “Monarch Watch tagging program is a large-scale citizen science project that was initiated in 1992 to help understand the dynamics of the monarch’s spectacular fall migration through mark and recapture.” “Tagging helps answer questions about the origins of monarchs that reach Mexico, the timing and pace of the migration, mortality during the migration, and changes in geographic distribution”