Saturday, October 1, 2011

Monarchs and Mantids

     The monarch butterflies are headed south. I sat on the edge of my garden last week and, in only thirty minutes, I counted 300 fluttering above the zinnias. The generation that is wafting south is not the generation that flew north. In fact there are three generations in between. Somehow the fourth generation knows at the end of August to turn around and start the trip south to the Sierra Madre Mountains in Mexico. This generation is the only one to make the entire trip and will fly up to 3,000 miles home. My classroom full of sixth graders sat outside yesterday to watch and count. The students were unusually subdued, pointing quietly as bits of orange and black fluttered by. I saw wonder in their faces. Our official count was 61 monarchs in ten minutes which we posted on .
     Other insects on the move have found a temporary home in our classroom. We adopted a few fat praying mantis females and brought them in so we could observe the production of their oothecas
(oh uh theekas). The students provided a balanced diet of crickets and grasshoppers which mantids hold and eat just like an ear of corn. Every morning a crowd of kids converged on my classroom for the morning feeding and their favorite part of the show was watching the alien-faced bugs preen like cats at the end of their meals. Finally, a female rewarded us with an egg case and we rewarded her by releasing her outside. The next day she was at our window, tapping with her folded claws until we let her in and fed her. The following day, she came again, but that was the last we saw of her. She will die soon, but we will tie her ootheca to the dogwood tree outside our window and hopefully, one day in the spring, we will be greeted by 1,000 baby mantids tapping at the window in search of lunch.

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