MONARCH WATCH Continued..
Below is West Branch School's press release regarding their paticipation in the Monarch Watch program. It was published in the Williamsport Sun Gazette in November 2014.
The students at West Branch School have raised and released hundreds of monarch butterflies in conjunction with the Monarch Watch program over the past 13 years. Teacher, Stacie Lakatos, brought the program to the school when she started teaching there in 2002. According to their website, “Monarch Watch is an educational outreach program base at the University of Kansas that engages citizen scientists in large-scale research projects. This program produces real data that relate to a serious conservation issue. Monarch Watch gets children of all ages involved in science.”
Each fall, monarch caterpillars arrive at the school; some are as small as 2mm upon their arrival. The students prepare “caterpillar cottages” and, over the course of the next 10–14 days, observe and record the growth of each caterpillar. Most will grow to 45mm! Each day, a fresh milkweed leaf is placed in each caterpillar cottage. “I liked feeding the butterflies a lot, because you had to have experience to put them on the new leaf without touching them. If you touch them they can die, because we have oils on our skin that can go through their skin and get in their body causing them to die,” says fourth grade student, Jett Pulizzi.
Students continue to observe and record changes as the metamorphosis continues and the caterpillars enter the chrysalis stage. After 10-14 days in the chrysalis, the transformation is complete, and an adult monarch butterfly emerges from the chrysalis. Fourth grade student, Garreth Watts, says “It’s very fascinating to see them changing from a caterpillar into a butterfly. You get to see them go from a caterpillar into a “j-shape,” then into a chrysalis. When they emerge as a butterfly, it’s the most beautiful sight. I think it’s important to collect all of the data and send it to the scientists so they can keep track of how the butterflies are doing.”
As they emerge, the butterflies are tagged and released. “We obtain tags from Monarch Watch, which are numbered,” Lakatos said. “We place the adhesive tag on a particular spot on the butterfly’s wing before we release it.” Once all of the monarchs are released, the data is sent to the University of Kansas. Data includes not only the location and date the butterfly was released, but also the gender of the butterfly. According to Lakatos, “Students know how to identify a male or female in both the pupa (chrysalis), and in the adult butterfly.” After their release, the monarchs will start their migration to a particular valley in Mexico, where they will overwinter. Tagging allows scientists to track migration patterns and routes. Tagging also aids scientists with the annual population census and allows them to observe the effect of weather and climate on the monarch population.
For the past couple of years, the monarch population has been decreasing. The 2013-2014 overwintering population was at an all-time low. Weather and climate issues, as well as habitat loss in both Mexico and the US, has contributed to the monarch decline. When asked if people should be concerned with the loss of the monarch habitat, Lakatos replies, “Yes, I think people should be concerned with the loss of monarch habitat as with any species whose habitat is being destroyed or reduced. While you may see milkweed around here, that doesn’t mean all areas of the country have the same abundance of it. Because monarchs migrate and make their way north over 5 generations over the course of a season, if the food supply is insufficient in other areas, they may never make it this far north to reproduce here. Also, a single female butterfly can lay hundreds of eggs and she only puts one on each leaf, so she needs a lot of leaves to accomplish this task.”
Through the Monarch Watch program, the students at West Branch School are doing real science; observing, collecting data, and recording data that scientists will use. As the scientists learn more, the students see that their work has contributed to that learning and greater understanding of monarchs. For more information on how you can help conserve and protect the monarchs’ habitats and the Monarch Watch program, please visit www.MonarchWatch.org.