Butterflies Galore

Butterflies Galore
Posted on 10/17/2017
Butterfly release

It has been a busy fall for the second graders at Fairview School. They became a part of a pilot project from Iowa State University and experts on the monarch butterfly.  “Actually, this project began last fall,” stated second grade teacher, Mrs. Lisa Elliott. “Lynne Campbell, Professional Development Specialist/ Iowa State University Extension and Outreach and STEM Consultant/Prairie Lakes AEA, gave me a call telling me about plants that needed a home.  They were well established, so we planted them outside Fairview School, and the garden serves as a model habitat for butterflies, with several types of milkweed, which is the only plant that monarch caterpillars will eat,” said Elliott. With the well-established garden in place, Elliott received an email in August from Campbell wondering if Fairview teachers wanted caterpillars.  They responded positively, ordering for each classroom.  When they arrived as eggs in six petri dishes, there were close to 50 eggs per dish which hatched and lead to nearly 270 caterpillars around the building.  Each classroom had 20 – 25 caterpillars in their care.  The caterpillars were supplied by Keith Bidne, ISU insect specialist.

In addition to launching the new school year, Elliott found herself with a seemingly second full-time job, as she helped her second-grade team complete the project. “Monarchs are an environmental concern at this time. They are in danger of being added to the endangered species list,” stated Elliott. While hectic, it was absolutely worth allowing the students a first-hand experience of the life-cycle of a monarch butterfly, and it tied in well with the second grade IA Core Standards relating to how animals help pollinate plants and how plants and animals are compared to the diversity of life in different habitats.

The caterpillars were raised in accordance with the ISU Extension standards.  Each small caterpillar had its own small petri dish with about a fourth of a milkweed leaf.  As they grew they were then moved to a cup covered with filter paper which included an entire milkweed leaf for the caterpillars to eat.  Fresh milkweed was very crucial for their survival as caterpillars receive both food and moisture from the plant. The first batch of milkweed leaves was provided, but eventually Elliott had to dig into her own stash from home that she has grown for many years to feed the monarchs.  To supplement the supply even further, Elliott’s husband walked an old train track and found milkweed to supply the demand from 270 caterpillars.

After eating for nearly two weeks, the caterpillars formed their chrysalis, and then roughly ten additional days later, they emerged as monarch butterflies.  The students helped every step of the way, putting the caterpillars into their little habitat to form their chrysalis, and then into a butterfly.  Once the butterflies emerged, students helped to determine if they were male or female and tagged each butterfly for Monarch Watch, from the University of Kansas. They were then released to the butterfly garden outside Fairview School, and the students said goodbye as they flew to warmer weather!

In addition to participating and observing each stage unfold, the students applied their learning for a better understanding of how the habitat affects what is alive in different regions.  “This is perfect to show what grows in Iowa,” said Elliott, noting the milkweed plant.  “They also saw how dependent animals are on plants and how they need each other, and learned that butterflies are pollinators just as much as bees are for the plants.  All of that fits into our Iowa Core for second grade.”

As the butterflies were being released, Elliott said, “I hope they hurry to get on their way to Mexico!”