Thursday, 15 September 2016

Bringing Butterflies Back to School


In the summer of 2010, I had the opportunity to attend a fabulous three-day PD session on bringing Monarch butterflies into the classroom.  Since then, every September we've brought in at least one Monarch caterpillar and observed its metamorphosis from caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly with the accompaniment of excited squeals from our students.  One summer they were so plentiful, my family actually raised over fifty of these royal butterflies.  Sadly this year was different. 
My sisters and I as well as our middle grades teacher Robert went out on numerous occasions to hunt for caterpillars, to no avail.  Ironically, the only thing I brought home was a poison ivy rash!
Not to be daunted, I contacted one of the presenters from the PD session, she forwarded my email to other teachers and one of them informed me that she also couldn’t find any Monarch caterpillars, that a substitute was available though.   


She said that swallowtail caterpillars are easily found on dill, carrots, parsley and fennel.  Before I had an opportunity to pay a visit to our community vegetable garden, our ladies were working with parsley – packaging it up to freeze for the winter.  My nephew Jakobi who had been at the cannery at the time, proudly came home carefully carrying a sprig of parsley. “Elma, do you want this caterpillar?” Did I ever?
A second one came to me similarly when my sister Shirley was working in her herb garden where she also raises dill.  Since then I’ve hunted through our vegetable garden several times, wading through the carrot, parsley and dill patches, but haven’t found any more.  The pair of caterpillars feasted on dill and parsley greens for several weeks before slipping into their chrysalises just days before school started!  I’ve brought them to school for the students to observe, as it’s the first time any of us have seen this bumpy, brown shell-like case.  The down side of having swallowtails as opposed to Monarchs is that we’ll have to wait until spring to watch them emerge.  Undoubtedly, we’ll have to learn the virtue of patience from them throughout our long cold Manitoba winter as they, diapause (an insect’s version of hibernation) in our garden shed.
Since we don’t have live Monarchs, my back-to-school activity this year was one I gleaned from that Monarch PD session.  All our students, since coming back to school have emerged into marvelous Monarchs. 

Back-to-School Activity

Each student wrote a sentence on what they are “a-flutter” (excited or nervous) about regarding coming back to school.   

I’ve read them several books from my butterfly collection as each class in our school came to my room to complete their butterfly creation.  My personal favourite thus far is “A Butterfly is Patient” by Dianna Hutts Aston, a book I’ve had in my classroom library for quite a while, but hadn’t taken the time to read before.  The information coupled by its charming illustration held captive the attention of all my listeners.  What I especially

appreciated was that the inside of the front cover displayed dozens of caterpillar species along with their names.  By the time we’d read our way through to the inside of the back cover, they had all emerged into beautiful butterflies that were also labeled!  In fact, just looking at all the illustrations in this book and reading the labels gives readers much information on the appearance of both pupa and adult stages of dozens of different butterflies!
My hope is that like butterflies sipping on sweet nectar, so too will our students enjoy studying science, social studies and all the other subject and skills in all stages or grades to grow and emerge into knowledgeable adults.

Where have they gone?

Throughout the summer there didn’t seem to be a shortage of Monarch butterflies around our flower gardens, which left us baffled as to why we couldn’t find their eggs or caterpillars.  As well, milkweed was in abundance and I don’t think there’s a patch around our colony from the railroad tracks to the south of us to the Assiniboine River to the north that wasn’t inspected by eager caterpillar detectives. 
Was anyone able to bring any caterpillars in this summer?  Do you grow any specific flowers to attract them? If so, I’d love to hear from you. 

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