Headed to Mexico?

ND class raises, releases monarchs to migrate

NORTH DICKINSON COUNTY School teacher Amy Hord, center, releases monarch butterflies her class raised from caterpillars. Looking on, from left, are junior Fiona MacFadyen; kindergarteners Brianna Anderson, Destiny Denecke and Morgan Murray; first-grader Felix Mattson; kindergartner Ethan Dennocenzo and his sister, Taylor, a third-grader; and in the corner is kindergartner Adyson Berg. In back, at right, are 10th grader Morgan Sleeter and eighth-grader Chloe St. Onge. (Betsy Bloom/Daily News photo)

FELCH TOWNSHIP — When it comes to monarch butterflies, Stetson Oman knows his stuff.

His teacher, Amy Hord, has a video of the 7-year-old describing, with the finesse of an NFL play-by-play announcer, as a caterpillar in their North Dickinson County School class converted to chrysalis.

Monday, it took little prompting to get the second-grader detailing what will happen after his class later that day released 34 monarch butterflies they had raised from caterpillars.

They’re headed on migration south, Oman explained. And because they’ve been tagged, “then we might get a report back if they make it to Mexico.”

This was the second year of raising monarchs at the North Dickinson school, but the first time they’d attached wing tags to the butterflies before setting them free.

FROM LEFT, FIRST-GRADERS Sam Rossi and Hunter Grenier, along with second-grader Claire Cherubini, tend to a monarch butterfly that landed in the grass after being released at North Dickinson County School in Felch Township. (Betsy Bloom/Daily News photo)

The Monarch Watch class project started with 40 monarch caterpillars, ordered online and purchased by Hord’s parents, Mark and Tina Anderson and the logging company MVA Enterprises. The same group also provided the butterfly enclosure for the classroom.

Fed a steady supply of fresh-picked milkweed, all but six of the caterpillars developed into butterflies. The kids watched in fascination as the striped caterpillars shivered out of their skins to reveal a jewel-like, pale green chrysalis with a line of tiny gold beads.

“It almost looked like glitter,” said second-grader Elsie Oman, 7.

But the biggest surprise was having a rare white monarch among the first 13 butterflies that emerged last Thursday. A second white individual hatched this past weekend, Hord said.

It set the class researching white monarch butterflies online, discovering less than 1 percent of the wild population in North America lacks the normal orange color, Hord said. The Butterfly Garden of Wisconsin, which supplied the class with wing tags for the monarchs, told them they’d never had a white one. But they learned that in Hawaii, where the species was introduced,10 percent of the monarchs are white.

ONE OF TWO white monarchs waits for its release with the other butterflies. (Betsy Bloom/Daily News photo)

Monday, high school science students came in to attach the white paper tags on the monarchs’ wings and check them for ophryocystis elektroscirrha, or OE, a protozoan parasite that caterpillars can ingest from milkweed. All of the North Dickinson butterflies got a clean bill of health.

In the afternoon, the butterfly enclosures were moved outside, where students from kindergarten through 12th grade turned out to see the butterflies sent on their way.

Not all of the insects left willingly. Hord had to coax several of the monarchs to take flight, and some ended up landing in the grass or on the students, who seemed honored to have been chosen by the butterflies.

“I think they wanted to stay with our kids,” Superintendent/Principal Angel Inglese later said.

The class also had raised about 10 painted lady butterflies, a smaller orange, brown and black species that also migrates, though less well known than the monarchs.