Kindergartners play tag with monarch butterflies

Pupils release the insects they raised, hoping that numbers on their wings assist in tracking them

October 16, 2005|By MARY GAIL HARE | MARY GAIL HARE,SUN REPORTER

When you are 5 years old and preparing to launch a butterfly from its makeshift habitat in your kindergarten, you have to rely on whatever tool is handy.

While one classmate suggested a slingshot, Kayla Sherfey found a safer perch: her nose.

In the garden outside Mechanicsville Elementary School on Friday, a brilliant orange-and-black monarch butterfly rested on Kayla's dainty nose.

"You look different with a butterfly on your head," said a classmate.

An unflinching Kayla smiled as the critter lingered briefly and then moved down her cheek.

"It likes her warm skin," said Mary Hoy, a teacher at the county's Hashawha Environmental Center who helped organize the launch.

The monarch fluttered its wings tentatively and then flew off to hide in the branches of the nearest tree.

"I really didn't feel it much," Kayla said. "It was soft and kinda tickle-y."

By now, the creature could be a hundred miles into its southern migration to Texas or Mexico. In weeks to come, Kayla might be able to find out whether the monarch survived the trip. Her butterfly is tagged with a number printed on a tiny white spot attached to its wing.

"We put the tag on to try to track the butterfly," Hoy said. "Nobody can get in a car and follow a butterfly. But if someone finds this one, you will know how far it went."

Kindergartners at the school in Gamber have for weeks been raising monarch caterpillars, watching with magnifying glasses as the creatures ate and ate and then developed into brilliant butterflies. The children donned handmade butterfly headbands and carried butterfly wands as they prepared to release the 25 butterflies that had emerged from their cocoons.

"We have to let them go," said pupil Noah Boguski. "If they stay here, they might die. We are not here all day. How would they eat?"

Butterflies feed themselves fairly efficiently and often favor meadows and mud puddles, Hoy said. She had pictures of swarms in birdbaths and atop watermelons and hamburgers.

"They can smell and see much better than you, and find plants with their nose and eyes," she said.

Several children placed the monarchs on tree limbs and lingered to make sure they stayed. April King hesitated to touch one.

"I am sorta afraid of butterflies," she said.

No need to fear, said Hoy.

"Butterflies don't scratch, bite, sting or carry diseases," she said. "They really are a great species to invite into your yard."

Claire Olson gently held a monarch between her thumb and forefinger while Hoy attached a tag with the number 170.

"I have a butterfly garden at home," Claire said. "I like to watch what they do."

Hoy wove entomology, ecology and history into her lesson. A slide show offered the children enlarged pictures of various butterflies, several of which the class quickly identified.

"This lesson taught them about nature, life, the needs of animals," said kindergarten teacher Gerry Stimmel. "They have observed, recorded and made discoveries."

The children waved their butterfly wands, circled the screened habitats and sang, "Bye, bye, butterflies. We are glad to set you free."

Hoy finished the class by helping the pupils begin their own butterfly garden. The children eagerly dug into piles of mulch and spread it across a plot where they would plant milkweed and goldenrod, plants that attract butterflies.

She asked the young gardeners to finish a thought that would recap the day.

"Kids can really make a ... " she started - hoping for difference.

But several children replied: "Mud puddle!"

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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