Have you ever been late? Not extremely late, but five minutes here, ten there? Embarrassingly, I am consistently a little bit late. I want to be on time, but find myself leaving the house at the last possible second every time. Whether I have hours to prepare before departure or five minutes, I am running out the door, frazzled and frantic, with no time to spare. It’s no fun being late, which is why I had lots of empathy for the Monarchs who emerged in our yard in the last days of October and the first ones of November. They arrived to cold temperatures and an impending hurricane. The following is the story of how my family helped these late arrivals get to where they needed to be on time!
We spent all summer watching the Monarch caterpillars in our yard. We have been fascinated by these beautiful caterpillars that turn into beautiful butterflies. Some of these brightly colored creatures travel from our yard in Pennsylvania all the way to their wintering grounds in Mexico. We searched for chrysalises so we could see the caterpillars emerge as butterflies, but didn’t find any until my son looked out our front window and discovered this Monarch in late October.
We took a closer look and saw its chrysalis and a second chrysalis of a butterfly that had not yet emerged.
The already emerged butterfly that my son first spotted took off later that day, but we feared the one who was still waiting to emerge would not survive Hurricane Sandy, which was due in a few days. We brought it in before the storm and it emerged, safe from the rain and wind.
The temperature then dropped drastically. Monarchs need temperatures of at least sixty degrees Fahrenheit to take off. We put it back outside, but it was unable to fly.
We brought him (we discovered he was male by the markings on his wings) back inside and started to brainstorm ways to get this guy to Mexico. We fantasized about driving him south. According to the weather forecast, our next sixty degree day was two weeks away. We looked at weather maps and discovered it would be at least a ten hour drive for us to get somewhere with sixty degree temperatures. My husband began feeding him and we kept him in a mesh container that the kids had on hand for observing butterflies. While trying to decide what to do, my husband went outside and found yet another newly emerged Monarch in our yard!
We talked to a local butterfly expert who said he would probably let them go and let nature take its course, but as we talked, he remembered that people ship butterflies in envelopes (think butterfly releases at weddings) and said we could try if we knew anyone who lived in the south.
I thought of my cousin in Texas. Monarchs pass through Texas on their way to Mexico. Perfect! I contacted my cousin and she was very willing to help these guys out. My husband diligently researched how Monarchs are shipped by companies for releases and learned that they are put in glassine envelopes, cooled into a dormant state and kept cold with an ice pack during shipping. We decided to ship them overnight to Texas the following Monday to ensure there would be no delay on the weekend. (A USDA permit is required to ship butterflies across state lines)
My husband continued to feed them sugar water for the few days they remained with us. He used a toothpick to roll out their proboscis and encourage them to drink. One preferred to drink from a spoon and the other preferred a sponge.
The butterflies were fed once a day and it was an amazing opportunity for us all to examine parts of a butterfly and learn how they eat.
We were sad to say goodbye, but were very excited they would have an opportunity to get to Mexico despite their late start. My husband carefully packaged them in envelopes and placed them in a cooler with an ice pack in a separate compartment.
We looked at our map and found PA, Texas and Mexico and talked about how far the Monarchs would be traveling. We discussed how they would make this journey on their own if they hadn’t emerged so late in the season.
The kids went to the post office with Daddy to see the butterflies off.
The Monarchs left our local post office at 2:30 pm on a chilly November day and arrived in Allen, Texas about 24 hours later. I received this image from my cousin over social media entitled, “Made it!”
We were thrilled that the butterflies made it safely and were treated to a video of their release into the warm Texas skies by my cousin and her beautiful daughters. This was a great learning opportunity for the whole family. Now if only there were some overnight shipping equivalent that could get me and the kids to school on time!
Even though Monarch season is over in PA, if the children are still interested, we can easily extend this learning opportunity by having the kids do some of the following activities:
*Use a proboscis (drinking straw) to drink like a butterfly.
*Draw what you observed.
*Label the parts of a butterfly.
*Practice handwriting with terms associated with butterflies (wings, antennae, Monarch, Mexico, caterpillar, etc.).
*Print a map of the US and Mexico and trace butterfly routes
*Draw a male butterfly and a female butterfly after learning the wing markings that tell them apart.
*Draw a caterpillar, chrysalis and butterfly to show the process the Monarch goes through.
*Compare the colors of the caterpillar to the colors of the butterfly, make side by side pictures using the two sets of colors.
*Determine the number of miles between your house and the wintering grounds in Mexico. How long would it take you to drive? Monarch journeys from the north can take up to 90 days.
*Study the maps of butterfly migration. Discuss the weather differences in the states the Monarchs might pass through.
*Check out one of the many websites that track the Monarch migration and see what is happening in Mexico this year.
*Talk about directions, north and south. Research how Monarchs know the direction they are supposed to go.