MES Monarch Project with Somers Knight

A few weeks back, Cindy Sandeno, USForest Service District Ranger of Marlinton and White Sulpur in the Monongahela National Forest gave a comprehensive, and inspiring report on Monarch Butterflies. In Millboro, Virgina, a little over an hour away, one retired teacher, Somers Knight, is helping all the students in the Elementary School get acquainted with some of those insects, as they say, “up close and personal”.

“What you have to do with young children and science, it starts with love. It starts with stepping out into nature and seeing something that makes you awestruck, say ‘Oh my goodness that’s beautiful.” A monarch butterfly is beautiful. Then it’s interesting. It has this interesting life cycle where it starts as an egg that’s smaller than a freckle, and grows into a caterpillar the size of your thumb. And then that caterpillar makes a J, and finally a beautiful green chrysalis, one of the most beautiful works of art in Nature. It’s absolutely beautiful. It has gold beads on it. It looks like jade. It’s beautiful. And then the miracle happens which is, you wait about two weeks, and the butterfly emerges where there used to be a caterpillar. They don’t look at all alike, and the butterfly is gorgeous. I’ve done walk arounds in schools where both children and adults are just thrilled to see a butterfly. It lifts your heart.”

One more part of the miracle is that those monarchs born in the fall are actually physically different than those born the rest of the year, and that’s because they need to handle a huge migration.

“Scientists are still trying to find out how they know to go from Canada or Florida down to Mexico reliably. They know exactly where to go.”   They just need to be able to hatch on milkweed for the caterpillars to eat, and to sip nectar from flowering plants as they travel. Mrs. Knight reviewed how very dependent agriculture is on these pollinators for growing more plants.   Thus, the program at Millboro elementary School where milkweed stems hand harvested by Mrs. Knight stand in bottles of water, some with caterpillars chewing busily, others with quiet little green pods attached. The adults are released pretty soon after they emerge. The whole process takes about a month.   Visitors are welcome to look at the butterflies at the different stages of development; just please check in at the office first. Many of the students are just as eager to talk about what they are learning about Monarchs, as the adults who do the collecting and monitoring. There is also a video of an adult butterfly emerging from a chrysalis on Bath County Schools website, thanks to teacher Joey Crawford.

Somers Knight finished explaining her commitment to spreading enthusiasm for these amazing and essential insects.

“All these Monarchs that fly down to Mexico and winter over, are flying through Texas. And Texas has had drought conditions and they’ve also had food conditions, all sorts of things that eliminate the habitat, and specifically the milkweed that Monarchs depend on. So this is a really important project where we bring children into the joy, the magic, but also the importance of the Monarch butterfly. I’m hoping that as they grow, and as our communities become more aware that we are realizing how important it is not just to take care of this one butterfly. This is one butterfly but it symbolizes all of the things in Nature that we depend on, and that depend on us.”


Story By

Bonnie Ralston

Bonnie Ralston is the Assistant Station Coordinator at WVLS and a Highland County news reporter. She began volunteering at Allegheny Mountain Radio in the fall of 2005. In 2006 she became an AMR employee and worked in Bath County for eight years as the WCHG Station Coordinator and then as the news reporter there. She began working in radio while in college and has stayed connected to radio, in one way or another, for more than thirty years. She grew up in Staunton, Virginia, while spending a lot of time on her family’s farm in Deerfield, Virginia. She enjoys spending time outside, watching old TV shows and movies and tending to her chickens.

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