Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Monarch Butterflies and Citizen Science

Would you like to get involved with Citizen Science in your own backyard?  There are some simple things that average citizens can do to support the Monarch population.  

Monarch butterflies only lay their eggs on milkweed, and caterpillars only eat milkweed. But humans don’t seem to like milkweed very much and are cutting it down for various reasons. Sometimes humans cut down milkweed in order to build houses, buildings and streets. Sometimes the milkweed is cut down when trees are removed to harvest the wood. In recent years there have been a lot of wildfires that have destroyed a lot of milkweed. Humans cut milkweed down in their own yards because it doesn’t smell very good or they think it is a weed. But these humans don’t realize that monarch butterflies need the milkweed in order to survive, and the monarch butterfly population is dwindling. When adult monarch butterflies migrate from their overwintering grounds in spring, the females begin a search for a suitable place to lay their eggs. 
Why should we care about helping Monarchs?   Besides being amazing and interesting insects, they are major pollinators like bees.   They help the environment.  You can help Monarchs by planting a some milkweed.   
Female monarchs lay their eggs exclusively on milkweed plantsone of the critical roles it plays in monarch survival. Female monarchs will actually taste the leaf to make sure it’s suitable milkweed, before laying her eggs. Let’s take a visual journey through the monarch life cycle!

Stage 1: Egg

If you take a close look at milkweed pods and leaves in your garden, you may find monarch eggs. And if you find one, there are likely more. Female monarchs lay between 400 and 1200 eggs throughout their lifetime. It takes about four days for an egg to hatch. The monarch hatchling will eat its eggshell, which is filled with nutrients, and then the milkweed leaf.

Stage 2: Caterpillar (larva)

Once the caterpillar hatches, it grows rapidly. It’s estimated that in two weeks, the caterpillar will be3,000 times larger than the day it hatches. Monarch caterpillars shed their exoskeleton (or molt) as they grow. The black thing that pops off at the end of the video is the head capsule.




Stage 3: ChrysalisWhen the caterpillar is fully grown, it will find a suitable place to make its chrysalis. It will attach a wad of silk and hang from it, upside down (in a “J”). It spends approximately 18 hours in this position (depending on environmental factors). As you can see in the video, the exoskeleton splits near its head and the caterpillar wiggles to discard it.
As the monarch sheds its exoskeleton for the final time as a caterpillar, it forms a chrysalis. Inside the chrysalis, the caterpillar begins its transformation into a butterfly. The first few hours of the chrysalis (pupa) stage is delicate, as the exoskeleton is soft and weak.                                                                                                                        Stage 4: Butterfly After 8-10 days, you’ll see the monarch wing colors and patterns quite clearly. This is when the monarch is ready to emerge from the chrysalis. The monarch pushes its way out, and grabs hold of the exoskeleton. At first the monarch looks unbalanced, with a huge abdomen and tiny, folded wings. Within minutes the wings expand to their full size. The butterfly waits about an hour or so to dry its wings and prepare for flight.



How You Can Help

We can all help by educating others and planting milkweed. You can get a free butterfly garden starter kit by pledging to be a Butterfly Hero.
If you’d like to learn which species are native to your area and purchase plants, Monarch Watch’s Milkweed Market, the Xerces Society’s Project Milkweed or NWF’sAmerican Beauties native plant program are great places to start. There are some additional things gardeners can do to helpprepare monarchs for their migration.


Help monarch butterflies and other fall migrants by becoming a wildlife gardener.

You can get involved with Citizen Science by recording your sightings of Monarchs and even by reporting the planting of milkweed.  Journey North makes this as easy as a couple of clicks to add your data.   You can also view data that other citizens have added.   Your own family can easily get involved with Citizen Science in which amateur scientists and citizens record and report their sightings and contribute as citizens to scientific research.  
For more on Citizen Science visit Journey North
Here I am planting some milkweed.  I will report my findings to Journey North
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I have several resources in my store that are for teaching life cycle of a butterfly.  I like  centers for you children pre k-1st grade.
For students 3rd grade-5th grade I like to have them read a nonfiction text passage about Life Cycle of the Butterfly and put some items in their interactive notebooks.