Tag Archives: chrysalis

Back to School: Butterfly Edition

Kids are back to school in Philadelphia and it’s causing quite a buzz! As Mayor Nutter visited classrooms throughout the school district of Philadelphia, Ms. Corbin’s lucky sixth grade class at Tilden Middle School kick-started their year with an environmental education lesson with the help of staff from John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge. Students began the year utilizing observational skills and learning about nature through the beautiful and iconic species, the monarch butterfly.

IMG_0755

Tilden students examine a caterpillar and butterfly with magnifying glasses.

We set up several hands-on stations throughout the classroom, and the students had the opportunity to explore and learn about the importance of monarchs and other pollinators. They used field guides to identify different species of butterflies and moths that aid in pollination. They also learned the insect anatomy that allows pollinators to actually pollinate plants and successfully grow. At another station, we taught them about the life cycle and migration pattern of the monarch butterfly with live examples of the drastic stages of metamorphosis. As you see in the picture above, with magnifying glasses, students examined live caterpillars, chrysalises, butterflies, and even helped name the critters that will be tagged and released!

In another display, we demonstrated how humans rely on the work of pollinators for everyday items and food. Students got to make and sample chapstick with naturally pollinated materials like coconut oil, olive oil, and honey. They were also surprised to learn that cotton, peas, apples, chocolate, coffee and tea all need the support from pollinating insects to exist. Imagine living without coffee!

After learning that our monarchs and pollinating species are on the decline, we also helped students make pollinator habitat in their communities with the use of “seed balls.” These bundles of clay, dirt, and seeds are kneaded together and thrown in a sunny area. It is a fun way to sprout a fresh and new habitat for our pollinator friends.

IMG_0775

Seed balls are easy to make and fun to throw!

Did you grow monarchs this fall or are you doing anything to help this special butterfly, like planting milkweed or making seed balls? Let me know in the comments!

Small but Mighty

It’s that season again! You may be noticing small flashes of orange whiz past as you drive, or wings fluttering outside your living room window.  The monarch butterfly migration is in its earliest stages! All summer long, monarchs have been munching away on their favorite milkweed snack, and growing as fast as ever. Check out the clip below:

It only takes about a month for the Monarch to go through its entire metamorphosis and bring the next generation into the world. These beautiful insects live 2-5 weeks while enjoying the summer season and continuing their genetic line. Incredibly, this cycle can occur about three times throughout the summer! On the fourth generation, however, something spectacular takes place. The Monarch eggs laid in late August and September are destined for something much more magnificent than their three previous generations.

IMG_5470

A chrysalis only moments before it emerged. The orange and black pigmentation is the last stage of development during the pupal stage.

Our fourth generation monarchs are the migrators. We will be seeing these guys as caterpillars and butterflies in the upcoming weeks. These monarchs will develop into physically and behaviorally different insects than their parents and grandparents. Born with an underdeveloped reproductive systems, these little guys were created to channel all of their energy into one thing: flight. Weighing only one half of a gram, these mighty flyers fuel up on nectar for their migration to Mexico for the winter. The 2,000-3,000 mile journey is extremely dangerous and monarchs are at risk from large storm events and lack of feeding and breeding habitat.  Only a small percentage of monarchs will make it to their destination. The lucky survivors arrive in just in time for the Mexican Holiday, Day of the Dead, where it’s believe monarchs are the souls of loved ones that return each year. 

10421107396_e2fb0e2d49_o

You can identify this monarch as a female by the lack of black patches on the hind wing.

After taking shelter in the Oyamel Fir forests in the Transvolcanic Mountains of central Mexico, the monarchs begin their journey north in March, now fully mature. During their journey, they will reproduce and eventually die, having lived up to nine times longer than the first three generations. In addition to being an iconic species, the monarchs play a vital role in our ecosystems, supporting plant and wildlife biodiversity. Unfortunately, monarch populations have declined by 90 percent in the last 20 years. We can help by planting milkweed, reducing our pesticide use and spreading the word about these small but mighty butterflies! Over the next several weeks, I’ll be sharing stories about what we’re doing to help with our partners and how you can also help this iconic species.

In the meantime, to learn more about the plight of the monarch and what you can do to help, visit our Save the Monarch page!