An amazing migration
Normandy Elementary brings international monarch butterfly study to students
Education is best when it is relevant for students, and Normandy Elementary School is using the annual migration of monarch butterflies from Canada to Mexico, and their Bay Village rest stop, to make learning about geography and science personal. Bay Village is located right along the monarch butterflies’ migration path, and students frequently see the beautiful-winged insects each fall and spring as the sojourners rest and replenish their nutrition during a journey that can reach 2,500 miles long.
Julie Holland, a Normandy Elementary school librarian, is one of many people who watch for and record monarch butterfly sightings during the migration. She has been raising the butterflies from their eggs for 15 years. She tags and releases hundreds of them as part of an international effort to understand their migratory habits.
Now she shares her excitement and knowledge with Normandy Elementary students. This year, second-grade students in Mrs. Cathy Bogart’s class are gaining a greater understand of where Bay Village is located in relation to the rest of North America, and they are learning how butterflies develop through four stages.
“You can see how far it is from Bay Village to Disney World,” Holland told students recently as she pointed to an interactive map of North America. “The distance from Bay Village to the El Rosario Sanctuary in Mexico, where the butterflies spend the winter, is much farther.”
Students have watched monarch butterflies develop from an egg, to a caterpillar, to a chrysalis, and finally to an adult butterfly. They helped Holland release several monarch butterflies this year with lightweight, polypropylene tags attached. The tags, coated with a special 3M adhesive, are issued by an organization called Monarch Watch, based at the University of Kansas. They are numbered and identify the participant ordering them. Participants then record when and from where butterflies are released, and then they turn in the data sheets to Monarch Watch.
The second-graders are also participating in a “symbolic migration.” They create the program’s Ambassador Butterfly from their class, which carries a cluster of small, individually-colored butterflies and messages of friendship. The class will receive the same number of individual butterflies and messages from children across North America this spring.
Over the years, Holland has received word that three of the hundreds of tagged monarch butterflies she has released were found in Mexico. Two of the butterflies were raised by her from eggs, and one was caught with a net. “That told me that the butterflies I raised myself were as hardy as the one I caught,” she said. “I even have the names of the people who found them. I hope to travel to Mexico to see the sanctuary, meet the people involved and possibly Skype back to students in our school.”
No one really knows why monarch butterflies migrate to Canada and back to Mexico. Nor do we understand how the great-grandchildren who are born during the northbound trip find their way back to Mexico on their own. We do know that the population of monarch butterflies has been on a downward trend for many years due to a number of factors, including loss of habitat and the use of pesticides.
Holland notes that we can do much as individuals to help save this beautiful butterfly from extinction. “Plant milkweed,” she said. “Use it in a butterfly garden. There are many online resources to help you choose other plants to include. But please do not use pesticides. Remember, butterflies are insects.”
A video of many of Normandy Elementary’s monarch butterfly activities can be viewed at bayvillageschools.com/Normandy. More information on the monarch butterfly can be found at monarchwatch.org and journeynorth.org.
Director of Communications for the Bay Village City School District