BENNINGTON -- Coincidentally overlapping lessons on monarch butterflies by a Bennington Elementary first grade class and seventh grade class at Mount Anthony Union Middle School brought the two groups of students together Tuesday to conclude the units by tagging and releasing butterflies.
Lexie Dunham’s first graders visited Peter Laflamme’s science class and surprised many of the students and middle school teacher with their knowledge of the life cycles and flying patterns of Vermont’s state butterflies known for their bright orange and black patterns.
As part of LaFlamme’s butterfly unit, the class has observed a group off caterpillars go through the stages of forming chrysalises and then becoming butterflies. The class received tags from the University of Kansas that will help researchers study the migration patterns of monarchs including how far and where they fly during the winter.
Laflamme told students it’s important that the tags -- plastic stickers the size of the end of a student’s pinkie finger -- are placed on just the right spot on a butterfly’s hind wing so it does not affect their flying. If the sticker is not placed on the butterfly’s discal cell it will weigh down the butterfly and prevent it from reaching Mexico for the winter.
In print that requires a magnifying glass to read, each tag includes an identification number as well as a phone number and website someone who finds the butterfly can call or visit to report the butterfly for tracking purposes.
The butterflies released out Laflamme’s second floor classroom window have a life expectancy of about six months. If that sounds short, it’s actually not, Laflamme told the student. Six months is actually six times longer than monarchs born at other times of year.
Monarchs hatched in the fall fly all the way to Mexico, where they mate before dying. In the spring, it generally takes three or four generations reproducing on the flight back to New England and Canada before a monarch reaches its destination.
After a final lesson, two first-graders got to release a butterfly (most of the butterflies were released by the seventh grade class Monday due to fear it would rain Tuesday).
"It feels prickly," Domenick Peters said as a monarch rested on his finger for a short time before letting go.
To the satisfaction of the students, the butterfly fluttered around outside the window for just a moment before beginning its long journey south for the winter.
Tuesday’s lesson followed a PowerPoint presentation by seventh grade student Sophia Prandini on Monday, during which she taught the children in Dunham’s class about the process of tagging butterflies. Since Sophia’s visit, Dunham said the students had been anxious to visit the seventh grade class.
"They were really excited to come and actually see the process of tagging butterflies," Dunham said. "They were also excited to come to the middle school to see the next school they’ll be going to after elementary school."