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Monarch Butterflies: Join the Migration!

Millions of monarch butterflies are on their way to Mexico, part of one of the world's most spectacular migrations. And there are almost as many websites devoted to these extraordinary insects! We check out a few of the best.


"We're expecting a spectacular migration this year!" says O.R. "Chip" Taylor, an entomologist at the University of Kansas. "The monarch butterflies' departure for Mexico should begin any day now, about the time the next cold front hits South Dakota and Minnesota."

Any day now millions of monarchs will be on their way from their summer homes in the northern United States and in Canada to their southern nesting sites in the forests of Mexico. Millions of people will be watching this migration. Many will be "watching" online! A number of wonderful Web sites provide students and teachers across the globe with a "butterfly's-eye view" of the annual trek south and with an assortment of activities for getting actively involved! Among the activities:


  • Butterfly tagging. Students of all ages can capture and tag monarch butterflies and hope that they get word that one of their butterflies made it safely to Mexico.
  • Butterfly rearing. Order butterfly pupae and raise your own butterflies to tag and to be part of the grand migration.
  • Symbolic migration. One of the most popular activities involves children across the United States and Mexico. This fall, thousands of U.S. children will create butterflies of paper and other materials in their art classes. They'll mail those butterflies along with special messages to children in Mexico. The packages will be timed to arrive in Mexico at the same time the extraordinary monarch migration arrives there. Then, in the spring, U.S. children will receive butterflies from children in Mexico as the monarchs make their way back north.
  • Information gathering. Several Web sites serve as data collection sites.

For more information about these activities, read on. 


Many students track the incredible migration of the monarchs on Monarch Watch, a Web site launched by scientists at the University of Kansas. Monarch Watch is under the "watchful" eye of entomologist Chip Taylor. The project was initiated as a research project, but soon the educational potential of the migration became obvious.

"It became apparent that the monarch is a charismatic insect that captures the imagination of students," says Taylor. "We can use the magnificent biology of this insect to introduce students to a wide range of scientific concepts."

"Young students can track the migration, learn about the life cycle of a butterfly, and learn to tell the difference between a male and a female monarch," says Taylor. "At the high school level, students can learn about all those things plus population genetics, population control, aerodynamics, and a host of other sophisticated science concepts."

"Monarch Watch has three basic and simple objectives," says Taylor. The objectives are:

  • Science education. The monarch is an extraordinary insect. It can be used to reach a lot of people and to teach a wide range of science concepts.
  • Research. Among Monarch Watch's research projects are five student/scientist partnerships.
  • Conservation. The monarch migration is an endangered phenomena, according to scientists. Much of the blame for the monarch's predicament rests with the state of the Mexican economy. The human population continues to grow in areas where the monarch is known to nest (eleven sites on a half-dozen mountaintops have been identified as major nesting sites), and this increasing population puts added stress on the area's natural resources. The governments of Canada, the United States, and Mexico must work together to find workable solutions to cutting down the forests that are the monarch's winter home, Taylor explains.


This year, students in thousands of classrooms will follow the migration. Many will get involved in Monarch Watch's Tagging program, which distributes thousands of all-weather polypropylene tags -- most of them to teachers. Each tag is marked with a code number and the message "Return to the University of Kansas" and the university address. When a monarch is returned to the university, Taylor can tell from the code number on the tag exactly which class tagged the butterfly.

"Those who get involved in Monarch Watch are getting involved in scientific research too," adds Taylor. "Data from each year's migration and from previous migrations are analyzed. When the analysis is complete, a report is issued."

And scientists have students to thank for a good part of that data!

Information about tagging monarchs, raising (rearing) monarchs in the classroom, a monarch curriculum, and monarch supplies and posters -- and much more -- is available on the Monarch Watch Web site.

Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World® Editor-in-Chief
Copyright © 2005, 2105 Education World



  • Monarch Watch, Taylor's site out of the University of Kansas, invites visitors to get involved in a tagging program, rearing monarchs, and an assortment of special projects. Monarch curricula developed for grade levels K-2, 3-6, and 6-8 are available. Or be part of an online discussion about monarchs. The site includes a detailed glossary of monarch-related terms.
  • Journey North This site includes detailed directions for making and sending butterflies to be part of this year's Symbolic Monarch Butterfly Migration. Butterflies are mailed to Minnesota and transported to Mexico courtesy of UPS. But that's just the beginning. Journey North News provides weekly reports as the monarchs make their journeys north and south. Most of the site is free, but for a fee you can get a 150-page curriculum that includes 35 interdisciplinary activities, and you can participate in special online challenges and weekly "Ask the Experts" interviews. The site is sponsored by the Annenberg/Corporation for Public Broadcasting Project.
  • Online Science and Nature Store This online store sells all the supplies you might need for raising or attracting butterflies.