Bright orange and black monarch butterflies have filled sunflower and goldenrod blossoms surrounding the Kansas Wetlands Education Center for the past three weeks, providing an outdoor classroom for several area schools.
"The highlight of our trip was tagging 28 monarch butterflies," said Lois Steiner, Claflin Elementary fourth grade teacher. "Nets in hand, we were all able to catch a monarch, tag it, and release it for its winter migration to Mexico. This was a unique experience for my whole class."
Students from Great Bend, Ellinwood, Claflin, Natoma, St. John and Mineola participated in the University of Kansas Monarch Watch monarch tagging program in conjunction with KWEC. Now in its 19th year, the Monarch Watch program provides self-adhesive tags and directions to volunteers who gather information on each butterfly before applying the tags and releasing the butterflies. Tagged butterflies are recovered along their route south and at winter roosts located in Mexico, providing information to help answer questions about their migration.
KWEC provided both outreach and on-site programs on the monarch butterfly in conjunction with state science standards. After the on-site program, students were provided with instruction and nets to capture their elusive prey.
"In science we are doing an insect unit," Steiner said, "so this workshop tied in perfect. We were able to see the monarch butterfly in all four stages: Egg, larva, chrysalis, and adult."
Despite devastating rains that killed an estimated 50 percent of the population at the Mexican roosting sites last winter, the monarch has rebounded with a successful breeding summer in the Midwest. This year’s migration has lasted an unusual three weeks, with many area residents reporting hundreds and thousands of the butterflies roosting in the trees.
During fall migration, monarchs fly 20-25 miles per day, unless they hitch a ride behind weather fronts or use thermal air currents, which can gain them 100 to 200 miles. It takes two to two and one-half months to reach their destination, which is about 1300 miles from Central Kansas. After arriving in December, monarchs roost in fir trees that provide a canopy for protection. They head back north in mid to late February.
Nearly 200 monarchs were tagged by KWEC staff and area students this year, with plans to increase participation next year.
For more information on KWEC programs, call 1-877-243-9268.