Last weekend, I went to Monarch Madness at Bearbranch Nature Center, ready to volunteer on a beautiful Sunday morning. When I was asked to help out Miss. Mary at the butterfly table, so that I could write down tag numbers, I thought for sure it would be boring, but it turned out to be fantastic. Every year, Bearbranch has Monarch Madness to celebrate the Monarch butterflies starting their migration to Mexico. Part of what they do is called tagging the butterflies. They take butterflies that have been reared at the center or that are caught in the wild and put identification tags on them, so that when they make it to Mexico, the center can find out. The process is quite simple, but amazing at the same time. Before releasing the butterflies into the wild, they are fed honey water, which is just a mixture of one part honey and five parts water. As a volunteer, I was given the chance to feed the butterflies, which was an experience I’ll never forget. In order to feed them, you have to find their proboscis with a toothpick and unfold it so that it is in the water. Their proboscis is like their tongue and that is how they get nutrition, since Monarch butterflies are on a liquid-only diet. After they are fed, the butterflies get a little sticker on the back of their front wing, which is also recorded so that the information can be entered into a computer to help track the butterflies. Once the butterflies are tagged and their information is recorded, we picked a child that we would use as a launching pad to let the butterflies go.
While I learned a lot about Monarch butterflies during this service project, the coolest thing was the reactions of the little kids. When we were telling them about the butterflies and what we have to so that they are ready for their journey to Mexico, the little kids got really excited about being a part of letting them go. For every butterfly, we got one volunteer to help us release them. We put the butterfly on the child’s finger, the top of their head, or their nose. Some of the parents were able to get fantastic pictures before the butterflies flew away. The kids were fascinated with learning all about how a butterfly becomes a butterfly and also with how to tell a male and female apart. We were happy to explain the differences to them and show them some of the differences between a male and a female Monarch butterfly. The entire experience was one to never forget, and even I learned a lot about Monarch butterflies!