Monarchs are one of our long-distance migration champions and are currently flying through on their journey South. Buy tags at http://www.MonarchWatch.org and you can find out if the butterflies flying through your yard make it to Mexico. Catch a monarch gently in a net and place the sticker tag on the discal cell of its wing. Record the data on an information sheet that comes with your tags and return the sheet when you are done tagging for the season. This citizen science helps entomologists learn about the health of the current populations, their migration routes, longevity, dispersal and much more. To find the tagged monarchs, entomologists will pay locals 50 pesos or about $7-8 for each tag they are able to find.
To simulate a monarch migration with students try the Amazing Insect Migration Lesson from “Buzz Into Action, The Insect Curriculum for Grades K-4“. You can put out picture cards of monarch butterflies along a trail. On the back of each picture include an instruction such as “run in circles, a bird is trying to eat you” or “stick out your tongue/proboscis and say yuck, you just landed in a field of pesticides” or “you catch a gentle wind, glide ahead”. Relate the activity to taking a road trip and all the places you would need to stop to fuel up, find food, get rest, use the bathroom. Monarchs need many way-stations or healthy habitats along the way to make the journey without which they would not arrive. The study of migration creates excellent interdisciplinary connections to geography among other subject areas.
To connect with students in Mexico consider participating in Journey North’s Symbolic Migration. Your students will send paper butterflies to Mexico in September when the real Monarchs fly south. The paper butterflies will be returned with messages from students who live near the Monarch wintering ground and arrive back to your school in late-March just as the real Monarchs are begining their return flight.
David Alexander is author of the Buzz Into Action & Hop Into Action Science Curricula. He specializes in making nature accessible to people and wildlife. You can follow him at www.natureintoaction.com