Monday, September 13, 2010

See you next spring: the Monarchs are moving south!

The Monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus, is the official butterfly of the State of Minnesota. Minneapolis celebrated the start of this magnificent creature's 2,300-mile migration to its overwintering grounds in Michoacán Mexico Minnesota style with the second annual Monarch Festival. Over the past many summers I worked with scientists at the University of Minnesota in bringing the science of insect ecology to teachers and their students. I use these insects to help my own college students to learn how to teach science. I monitor monarchs each summer at our hobby farm as part of the data collection efforts of the monarch larva-monitoring project, a citizen science initiative where I am often accompanied by one or more of my grandbabies. So you can say for a variety of reasons, this beloved creature is near and dear to my heart and that of my family.

Monarch butterflies cannot survive the long cold winter in Minnesota or any other cold northern area. Instead, they spend the winter in roosting spots. Monarchs east of the Rockies travel to the central mountains of Michoacán Mexico where they seek sanctuary in the oyamel forests high in the mountains. Seasonal changes in day length and temperature influence the movement of the Monarch. “In all the world, no butterflies migrate like the Monarchs of North America. They travel much farther than all other tropical butterflies, up to three thousand miles. They are the only butterflies to make such a long, two-way migration every year. Amazingly, they fly in masses to the same winter roosts, often to the exact same trees. Their migration is more the type we expect from birds or whales. However, unlike birds and whales, individuals only make the round-trip once. It is their children's grandchildren that return south the following fall” (Monarch Watch). This festival was a send off for the monarchs who will arrive in Mexico around the Day of the Dead, November 1. Here is a graphic with a map of their route.
Celebrating the monarch migration through art.

And with kites:
Nani, Owie and Greta monitoring monarch larvae at our farm. They are counting how many monarchs are present on over 100 common milkweed plants. They count the eggs, larva,the rare pupa and adults.

Releasing monarchs to travel south to Mexico:

So now you know a little bit more about my life and interests besides my journey to better health. How did I do with another event that featured FOOD? Great! No problem. Rode my bike to the festival with Ellery in the Burley about 8 miles round trip to get my exercise in and prepared with a snack. I did have a few bites of some of the best made tamales we can get in Minnesota, but other than that, stayed true. As a matter of fact each time I weather an event with food it is getting easier and easier to ignore the food. The food was not the event. The celebration of the monarchs was. So, long monarch butterflies. Travel safe. See your great or grandchildren back here in Minnesota next May! And readers in Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas here they come!


  1. Very interesting post Michele! You are a very well rounded person educationally. I envy you.

    I have to say that your realization of it isn't the food that is the big deal, it is the celebration is spot on and I am proud of you for it. Keep going girly girl!

  2. Thanks for that Michele! What an interesting tale, and isn't the Monarch a beautiful butterfly?

    I am hanging my head in shame after what you've just written about food at events. "...other than that, I stayed true. As a matter of fact each time I weather an event with food it is getting easier and easier to ignore the food. The food was not the event."

    So true! I must remember that. The food is NOT the event and that is an excellent point. Food tends to draw us overweight types unless we practice self-control. This is an area which needs lots of work - for me.

  3. Michele,

    Next year, I am coming to Minnesota and going with you to the festival. This is my kind of event! Is it a date?

    Although not in such a scientific way, I feel the same about my hummingbirds. Right now, the "wars" are at full speed at they tank up for their trip over the Gulf of Mexico. They provide such enjoyment for me and I miss them when they go.

    Great post!


  4. It's a bit alarming to see kids with the beauties in their hands. We go to the local butterfly release usually every year. Kiddo wears something with a flowered pattern to see if they will land on her.

    This year we get to go to Chicago for a Monarch Release in connection to an American Girl girl of the year (whose name happens to be Lanie) and she is all excited! Mom too!

  5. HI, Lanie and All,
    Thanks so much for your comments. Just a couple of notes:
    One of the great things about the monarch butterfly is its sturdiness. This is what makes it such a GREAT organism for study in classrooms throughout the US. Unlike other butterflies it does not shed it scales when you hold it in your hand. Of course it is not a good idea to hold it for a long time. But they are remarkable creatures for students to study (holding carefully) and certainly no harm done when they are released by a child (as long as they are held carefully). I had no idea there was a monarch release in association to the American Girl-how fabulous!!! Michele

  6. I loved this post. I learned something I hadn't known. I loved the pix of the children. And I liked learning more about you and what you do and love. Thank you! I'm with Sharon. We've got just a few more weeks until our little ruby throats move on out. Still lots of butterflies flitting around my bushes (I have butterfly weed, budlia, cone flower, etc., but this year they've LOVED the abelia) but not any monarchs that I've notices. Our 3rd graders (Fairfax County, VA) study the life cycle of the monarch, hatch them and then release them at the end of the unit.