BRIGHTON — Parents and staff members at Seton Catholic School continually admonished the first-graders in Janice Quinn’s class to “be gentle” with the butterflies the children were holding.
“Don’t squeeze him in half, but squeeze him tight enough so you have him,” Quinn told one student Sept. 22. Another student, Erin Murphy, said the butterfly’s wings felt “kind of like paper.”
One boy had to be cautioned to be careful with his butterfly, which he was holding up as if to challenge other students’ butterflies.
“I’m kung-fu butterfly!” the boy said, as his creature’s legs kicked in the air.
Quinn noted that the children had nothing to fear from the butterflies.
“They don’t bite,” she said. “They don’t have teeth. They don’t have a mouth.” What they do have, she noted, is a proboscis, a tubular organ they use for eating. The students added that the butterflies use their antennae to feel.
The children had been eagerly awaiting this day since the beginning of the school year, Quinn said. The school had invited the first-graders’ parents to watch the release of more than a dozen monarch butterflies, which were tagged before the children carried them outside to let them fly off.
Before releasing the butterflies, Quinn asked the students to answer questions about monarchs for the benefit of the parents present. Among the things the parents learned was that monarch butterflies migrate to Mexico and live about nine months, and that Quinn’s students were not shy about letting them know she accidentally crushed a chrysalis, the protective case in which the monarch develops into its adult form.
“They remember everything,” Quinn said.
For the past 14 years, Quinn, in cooperation with the University of Kansas Monarch Watch program, has overseen the butterfly-release program as part of her class’ study of various creatures’ life cycles. Monarch Watch, which maintains a Web site at www.monarchwatch.org, states that more than 100,000 students and adults throughout the United States and Canada participate in the program. Quinn collects butterfly larvae in the Adirondacks before the school year begins. By the first day of school, the eggs have become chrysalises or have hatched butterflies, she said, and the butterflies are ready to fly usually about two weeks later.
Invariably, the first-graders are enthusiastic about the program, she noted.
“When they walk in and see the butterflies, they want to learn,” Quinn said.
After the students place tiny numbered tags on the butterflies’ wings, Quinn sends a data sheet containing the tags’ numbers to the University of Kansas. Teachers, students and other people connected to Monarch Watch throughout the United States sometimes are able to collect tagged butterflies, she said, adding that one year she was thrilled when someone in another state sent her back a tag that had been placed on one of her butterflies.
When the students went outside to release the creatures, the front lawn of Seton became a riot of squealing children and fluttering butterflies. At one point, a group of children ran screaming after a butterfly like a gaggle of teenagers who had spotted a pop music star. Many of the students cried “Adios!” to the butterflies as they began their journey toward Mexico.
After the butterflies had been released, the students made their way back to Quinn’s class, where they chatted excitedly about their experience.
Lizzy Glynn estimated the butterflies would have to fly 2,900 miles to make it to Mexico, noting that the insects would travel farther than she’d ever been.
Audrey Clements, Caelan Gold and John Altpeter said they had put stickers on the butterflies’ wings. And Madison Fulton noted that her butterfly “felt like there was glue on their feet because it was sticky.” She added that her butterfly almost refused to leave her.
“He was sucking on my shirt,” she said.
William Hintz said it was a challenge to hold on to his butterfly.
“It was actually pretty fun,” he said.