By. Matt Tucker, Education Coordinator for Monarch Watch
For Harold Brown, a student at Stony Point High School in Round Rock, Texas, completing his assigned community service hours in his school’s Monarch Waystation Garden was a life-changing experience.
“The reason I started working in the garden was because I got into a little trouble. The reason I kept working was because I fell in love with it. I like that it takes time and you have to use your mind and your hands. I also like the butterflies. That might not sound very manly, but they make me feel peaceful.”
Harold has taken ownership of the garden and turned it into a wildly successful, school-wide project. His grades, behavior, and outlook on life have also improved since his initial waystation experience.
In Huntsville, Arkansas, the tragic loss of an amazing, young woman left the students at Huntsville Intermediate School numb with grief. However, the recurring appearance of a monarch butterfly at her funeral, as well as one hovering over her ceremonial float during the homecoming parade a week later, awakened the healing process. The monarch is now a symbol for the school and the community. It is a symbol of love and hope. A Monarch Waystation has been created at the school for students to learn about these butterflies, other pollinators, native plants, and many other topics.
According to Huntsville teacher, Sarah Glenn, they also learn about deeper, broader themes. “The butterfly project was amazing and we learned a lot about life cycles, migration, and conservation…about adaptations and defenses that animals use to protect themselves…and perseverance, as it takes a great deal of this, to migrate thousands of miles. And finally, responsibility to protect the world around us. I loved this project.”
These are but two of many stories we have received at Monarch Watch that illustrate the positive, and sometimes life-changing, connections students and educators make with monarchs. There is something special about this insect, its life history, and annual cycle, which involves an extraordinary migration, which draws people in. It is transformative.
As the Education Coordinator for Monarch Watch, receiving these stories from students, educators, and community members is inspiring. It has driven me to create a platform, called the Monarch Waystation Network, to connect and support educators and students to more efficiently incorporate monarchs into their classrooms. As a former teacher, I know firsthand how difficult it is to engage students, capture their imaginations, and have them take ownership of projects. There are countless amazing students in our schools who are making positive impacts, but the world needs more of them. Bringing monarchs into the classroom over the years has played a key role in aiding students to discover a more positive life course. My job is to assist in creating these opportunities, and that is incredibly fulfilling.
Monarch Watch is a nonprofit education, conservation, and research program based at the University of Kansas that focuses on the monarch butterfly, its habitat, and its spectacular fall migration. Monarch Watch was created in 1992 by Dr. Chip Taylor and has grown into an established nonprofit with multiple, donor-funded projects.
Monarch butterflies depend on milkweed for survival. Milkweed species are the sole host plants for monarchs. The females only lay their eggs on milkweed, and the monarch caterpillars eat nothing but milkweed leaves. The relationship is straightforward – without milkweed there are no monarchs. If we want to sustain the monarch population we must maintain and restore milkweed populations.
Data has shown that milkweed and many native nectar sources are declining due to the use of herbicides on croplands, pastures, and roadsides, as well as from development associated with our ever expanding cities. Because 90% of all milkweed/monarch habitat occurs within the agricultural landscape, there is a direct correlation between the loss of milkweed associated with agricultural practices and the monarch population. In 2005, Monarch Watch created the Monarch Waystation Program to encourage citizens to restore milkweed. Monarch Waystations are gardens at schools, libraries, zoos, nature centers, parks, and backyards that support the migrating monarch population by providing milkweed as host plants for monarch larvae, and nectar plants that attract adult monarchs. There are currently around 15,197 certified waystations.
Building off the popularity of the Waystation Program, the Bring Back the Monarchs campaign was launched in 2010. This program highlights the necessity of restoring 20 species of milkweed to areas from which they have been eliminated. To make milkweed available for these programs, Monarch Watch works with volunteers who supply seeds from nearly all regions of the country, as well as with nurseries that grow our milkweed plants (plugs) from these seeds. The plugs are shipped to individuals in areas from which the seeds were obtained. The Bring Back the Monarchs campaign includes the Milkweed Market, the Milkweed for Schools and Nonprofits Program, and the Free Milkweeds for Restoration Program. In the 12 months between fall 2015 and fall 2016 alone, these three programs combined to distribute 244,500 milkweed plants across North America!
These initiatives to increase habitat for monarchs and other pollinators are the foundation of Monarch Watch’s mission. However, the first Monarch Watch program involved students, teachers, and citizens in scientific research; specifically, tagging monarch butterflies. The tagging program began in 1992 with the goal of providing quantitative data on the dynamics of the monarch migration. Over the last 25 years, tens of thousands of these citizen scientists have helped answer numerous questions about the migration. We now know more about how monarchs move across the continent, how the migration is influenced by the weather, and how and why the timing of the migration varies from year to year.
The tagging process is quite simple. Schools, educators, or individuals buy ambien online cheap wishing to participate in this scientific study order tags from us. As daylight hours begin to shorten in August and September, monarchs in northern latitudes begin to migrate. Monarchs farther south will begin their journey a few weeks later. Tagging typically begins in late August, with more concentrated efforts made in September and early October.
Many schools and communities hold tagging events in areas rich with fall flowers known to attract monarchs, such as asters and goldenrod in the north, and frost weed further south. Monarchs visiting flowers are netted by participants. They are then examined to determine their sex, tagged, and then released. The data is recorded and sent to Monarch Watch where it is incorporated into a large database. In a given year, the average number of monarchs tagged is approximately 60,000.
Educators and students comprise a large percentage of our citizen scientists. It was this conclusion, combined with an increasing number of schools creating monarch and pollinator habitats on their grounds, that I created the Monarch Waystation Network. The goal of this project is to connect and support educators and students to more efficiently utilize their gardens as outdoor classrooms. Support is provided by means of the Monarch Waystation Network website, a discussion forum, newsletters, and email/phone support.
Many of the students participating in the entire monarch life cycle from egg to adult, who then tag and release the butterflies they have helped to raise – butterflies with a mission to migrate – make a connection they will not forget. It can truly be a life-changing experience.
I have received many quotes from students regarding experiences in their Monarch Waystation Garden and participating in the citizen science tagging project.
“Butterflies tickle and they are amazing. They make me want to learn more. Butterflies have opened the world to me.” – Kollier, 3rd Grade, Wellston, Ohio
“…it was then I knew my passion must turn into action…I designed habitats for monarchs locally, educated others about pesticide use on the plants they need to survive…I plan to stay true to my mission and enter the field of conservation ecology… ” – Hannah Krause, 12th Grade, Conrad Weiser High, Robesonia, Pennsylvania
Educators also shared testimonials about the positive impacts of exposing their students to monarchs and the tagging project.
“More importantly than academics is how the program initiates a transformation for our at-risk-youth regarding how they experience nature.” – John Huston, Nicholas Residential Treatment Center, Dayton, Ohio
“We had so many caterpillars in our Waystation! We have tagged and released well over 25 adults…we are honored to be a part of this effort…It has been wildly successful at our school both for the butterflies and the enrichment for the kids!” – Sarah Pesce, Las Americas ASPIRA Academy, Newark, Delaware
Once the tagging process is complete and all data sheets are sent to Monarch Watch, students eagerly await news of tag recoveries. Monarchs east of the Rockies overwinter in dense colonies high in the oyamel fir forests west of Mexico City. Monarch Watch pays local residents, who protect these overwintering colonies, to collect tags from dead monarchs found in the forest. Most of the monarchs west of the Rockies overwinter at various coastal sites in central California.
The codes from the tags recovered each year allow us to determine the date, sex, location, and tagger. These data are compiled into our database and then posted to our website. These records allow the taggers to determine if one of their butterflies has been recovered. If one has been recovered, the taggers can contact Monarch Watch to receive a certificate. Recovery data are used to test some of the many hypotheses concerning monarch migration, including orientation and navigation.
In addition to the valuable scientific discoveries made as a direct result of our citizen science program, our volunteers have documented some staggering numbers since 1992. Approximately 1.3 million monarchs have been tagged by tens of thousands of citizen scientists. Of these, more than 15,000 tags have been recovered! A 1.1% recovery rate may seem low, but the data from this project have led to a much greater understanding of the dynamics of the monarch migration.
Monarchs continue to inspire and capture the hearts of people all across North America. With opportunities such as Monarch Watch’s citizen science tagging program and our Bring Back the Monarchs campaign, entire schools or individual classrooms are finding meaningful ways to incorporate monarchs and other pollinators into their curricula. The evidence is clear – exposing students to curricula promoting self-discovery and exploration in the natural world benefits students, communities, and the world we all share.
These benefits are evident in the comments of students exposed to monarchs, such as that of an eighth grade student at the Nicholas Residential Treatment Center in Dayton, Ohio. After participating in his monarch-focused science program, and with a new-found sense of pride and accomplishment in his voice, this student revealed, “I never liked anything about nature before but now I love some things about nature. I have learned that nature is important to everyone and that is why I like it. We all need nature and nature needs us.”
About the Author
Matt Tucker is the Education Coordinator for Monarch Watch. Matt earned his Master’s in Education in 2007 from Northern Arizona University, and his Bachelor’s in Parks and Recreation Management in 1999 from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Before moving to Lawrence, Kansas and joining the Monarch Watch team in 2016, Matt taught for nine years in Arizona, North Carolina, and Alaska. Matt’s work at Monarch Watch merges his passions and experiences in education and the environment. To learn more about his Monarch Waystation Network Project, visit www.monarchwatch.org/waystationnetwork or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.