Kindergartners at Runnels School are participating in a service project to help boost the monarch butterfly population, which has seen a significant decline during the past 15 years.
The butterflies are in trouble because milkweed, a plant essential to their life cycle, is disappearing, a news release said. Though milkweed once grew abundantly on roadsides, in pastures, and at the edges of corn and soybean fields, urban development and the widespread use of herbicides has led to a reduction in the number of plants. This spells trouble for the butterflies because female monarchs lay their eggs only on milkweed so the newly hatched caterpillars can eat the leaves — their only food source.
To help turn the tide, Kindergarten Director Paula Naquin recently launched a service project at Runnels in connection with the Save Our Monarchs Foundation.
Kindergarten students have been planting milkweed in a raised flowerbed on the kindergarten playground to serve as habitats for monarch eggs and caterpillars.
“We already have some eggs on the plants,” Naquin said. The youngsters have been vigilant in watering and tending the plants at school every day.
Naquin also bought 75 packets of milkweed seeds from the Save Our Monarchs Foundation to pass out to kindergarten students and teachers to plant at home. Though milkweed plants are normally hearty, their seeds require special preparation to germinate successfully.
“You have to put the seeds in the refrigerator for two months,” Naquin said. After that, they can be planted in a sunny spot where they must be watered regularly. It takes about two months before the plants are substantial enough to serve as a monarch caterpillar’s food source. Each caterpillar consumes about 20 leaves per day. Following this preparation and planting schedule should ensure that the new milkweed plants are ready in time for the fall monarch migration, she said. The butterflies live only two to six weeks, with each female laying an average of about 700 eggs, with only one egg to a milkweed plant.
For more information, visit www.saveourmonarchs.org.