During this year of our study of immigration, it was very exciting when Melinda found a patch of milkweed plants with seven Monarch caterpillars feasting. Monarch butterflies are migratory, traveling some three thousand miles on an annual round-trip journey from the Northeast to Mexico, and back again. CELC students have observed, drawn and written about the growth of these Monarch larvae (caterpillars) over the past few weeks.
Monarch caterpillars eat quite a bit and do this exclusively from the leaves of milkweed plants – these plants have a substance that causes the eventual butterflies to be poisonous to birds. Once the larvae grow large enough, (the students were amazed at how much growth happened each day) they then slow down to begin their metamorphosis into a butterfly.
The next stage after caterpillar is the transformation into beautiful green and golden chrysalides (singular chrysalis) which remain suspended on a leaf or other location by a strong, sticky substance made by the caterpillar. Since the butterflies will need to dry their wings once they emerge, the caterpillar will choose a particular spot, usually high up, to try to take advantage of the warmth of the sun that will be needed by the butterfly it will become.
Our first butterflies were ready to be released Thursday morning, 23 September. As part of Monarch Watch, an organization dedicated to the study of the Monarch Butterfly, CELC students diligently tagged and recorded data about each of these butterflies prior to release. We found a blooming butterfly bush, thanks to a neighbor of Maria’s, and placed them carefully upon the purple flowers. The butterflies literally seemed to spring to life, and after spending some hours enjoying the nectar, took to flight.
The butterflies will head to Central Mexico to over-winter before returning back to the East Coast, perhaps even back to Branford, next spring to lay eggs and continue their amazing life cycle.