A journey spanning thousands of miles began with a bit of fanfare Monday.
Monarch butterflies embarking on a migration to Mexico for the winter months were bid adieu by cheering Bulloch Academy children who have spent weeks monitoring their growth.
Beverly Campbell’s prekindergarten class gathered around their teacher and a flower garden on the school playground to send off the airborne insects that once made their classroom home.
Monarchs took to the sky, heading south toward the border, as children issued them a final farewell in Spanish.
“Adiós, mariposa. Hasta luego!” they yelled — translated, “Goodbye, butterfly. See you later!”
Though most butterflies will return to the States next spring to produce a new generation of eggs, Monday’s event could very well mark the last time students interact with the winged creatures they have nurtured from the very beginning of life.
In what has become an annual tradition for Campbell’s pre-K classes, students earlier this year harvested butterfly eggs, moved them into an indoor environment and watched their development occur.
During the course of 24 days, the class observed the progress from egg to caterpillar, and eventually the bug’s final, adult stage.
The effort is part of a partnership, Monarch Watch, with the University of Kansas, that tracks tagged butterflies’ migration patterns throughout the United States and Mexico.
“This is our fourth year doing this program,” said Campbell, whose class released more than 70 butterflies last year and expects to release another 100 this year. “The children really enjoy this, and parents seem to enjoy it, too. Every year, it is just as fascinating as the last time I did it.”
Before releasing the young butterflies, the class records the sex of the insects and tags them with stickers placed on their wings. With any luck, the students will receive updates later this year about the status and location of their monarchs.
“The kids love to watch the entire process,” Campbell said. “They are fascinated.”
Campbell is able to tailor her entire class around the butterfly assignment.
“We incorporate our complete curriculum into this project,” she said. “There is science in watching the various stages of the bug’s life, social studies because we talk about Mexico and geography, language arts when we read books and write stories about butterflies, and we even learn a little bit of Spanish.”
The class also teaches math, requiring students to maintain charts that track the number of butterflies being raised and released, Campbell said.
On the whole, students are contributing to an important environmental mission, she said.
“Migration of the monarch is a big issue right now because we don’t really know a lot,” Campbell said. “Also, scientists are concerned that the population of monarchs is dwindling.”
Factors contributing to the monarch population’s decline include fire ants, not indigenous to certain areas, that are consuming monarch eggs, and a reduced acreage of milkweed plants throughout the United States. Monarchs are dependent on milkweed plant, which larvae eat nearly exclusively.
Luckily for the monarch, the Bulloch Academy youngsters are not alone in their research efforts.
The University of Kansas’ Monarch Watch program involves more than 2,000 schools, nature centers and other organizations in the United States and Canada. According to the school, more than 100,000 students and adults participate in tagging activities each fall.
Jeff Harrison may be reached at (912) 489-9454.