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School’s butterflies migrate to Mexico

By STACEY PLAISANCE / L’Observateur / October 19, 1998

GARYVILLE – Students bid adieu to monarchs hatched from the butterfly garden at Garyville/Mt. Airy Magnet School Wednesday, as the bright,winged beauties began their annual migratory flight from the school courtyard to Mexico.

Seventh-grade science teacher Kellie Jenkins and first-grade teacher Ana Martinez have provided their students with a hands-on account of the life cycle of the monarch butterfly. Jenkins said the students experienced eachtransition of the metamorphosis from a wiggly caterpillar to a beautiful butterfly.

“This is a part of our curriculum now,” Jenkins said. “The life cycle isstrongly emphasized in class, and the emphasis of the school is hands-on learning. This is an integral part of the curriculum that students now lookforward to.”The butterfly garden contains numerous bloodflower plants which the caterpillars feast on prior to their transition into a cocoon-like chrysalis, and Jenkins said the garden is maintained by the students. The youngcaterpillar eats in the garden continuously for two weeks, then a shiny green, gold-speckled chrysalis forms. When the chrysalis splits open twoweeks later, the winged adult butterfly emerges.

“We’ve really enjoyed this, and the students have had a good time,” Martinez said.

Jenkins said the monarchs that hatched Wednesday were most likely the offspring of butterflies that were hatched in the school’s garden last year.

She said monarchs migrate each fall but return to the location where they were hatched to reproduce.

The bright orange and black monarch is found throughout North America and in parts of Europe. It has a wingspan of 3 to 4 inches and a slow,graceful glide in flight. Each autumn, flocks of monarchs migrate, leavingtheir northern breeding grounds for warmer climates.

Flying at a rate of about 10 miles an hour, they travel as far as 2,000 miles to reach such destinations as California, Florida and Mexico. Jenkinssaid area monarchs, including the recently hatched butterflies at Garyville/Mt. Airy Magnet, will migrate to Mexico. Monarchs travel about80 miles a day during migration.

While migrating monarchs face hungry predators and rough weather during their migratory flight, these butterflies aren’t defenseless. Thousands oflenses make up a monarch’s eyes and allow it to see color, movement and shape in all directions. Adult monarchs are poisonous to certain types ofbirds, which usually leave them alone after one bitter-tasting bite.

And monarchs can increase their speed up to 30 miles per hour when frightened or to escape danger.

Once they reach their winter homes, monarchs spend much of the time in a state of semi-hibernation, quietly hanging from trees. Eggs are laid andnew generations of monarchs are born. As spring nears, each flock ofthousands of monarch butterflies prepares to fly home. In flight, theyproduce living clouds of orange and black heading north for the summertime.

How monarchs know when to migrate or how to find their way is still a mystery to scientists. Thousands of tiny tags are attached to butterflieseach year to help scientists study and track them – and perhaps learn the secret of the monarch migration.

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