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Monitoring monarch migration

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By Phyllis McLaughlin

The Trimble Banner

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For 12 years, second-graders in Carolee Kunkel’s class at Bedford Elementary School have watched caterpillars turn into monarch butterflies.

Each of the butterflies is released once it is ready to fly.

The children learn that monarch butterflies migrate thousands of miles, from the northern reaches of the United States primarily to mountain locations in Mexico; some actually migrate to southern Florida.

But, always, the fate of their butterfly friends has remained unknown.

That may change this year, as Kunkel became involved with Monarch Watch, an organization that tags butterflies hoping to study their migration habits. During a recent visit to the University of Kentucky with her son, Evan, she received tags that will enroll her classroom-grown monarchs into the Monarch Watch program.

On Wednesday, Sept. 30, the entire second-grade class at BES watched as Evan helped his mother tag their first butterfly to be released. Once it’s tag number was logged, Kunkel and the students followed Evan outside, where, with a flourish, he released it into the wild.

Kunkel said the monarchs that we see here in Kentucky during the spring and summer don’t live very long, once they lay eggs. But, the monarchs that are hatched from their chrysalises in the fall live up to six months. They do not mate; rather, they migrate to warmer locations, where they spend the winter.

In the spring, they begin the migration back to Kentucky and other parts of the United States. They will lay eggs along the way and, Kunkel said. Ultimately, it is their offspring that will complete the journey.

The tags, small and light enough that they don’t interfere with the butterfly’s ability to fly, include an identification number and a telephone number. The hope is that whoever finds a butterfly with a tag will call the phone number, then provide the ID number and where the insect was found.

For more information about monarch butterflies and the Monarch Watch organization, visit MonarchWatch.org on the Internet.