An Exercise in Active Learning (Grades 2-4)
In mid February, the weather in the central mountains of Mexico began to change and the impulse in the overwintering colonies to fly north began to occur.(14) The sun was higher in the sky and the warmer temperatures brought about a renewed activity in the Oyamel fir forest. While many of Gulliver's fellow Monarchs had not lived through the winter, Gulliver had survived.
One morning, after catching some rays of the early morning sun, Gulliver flew a short distance to a stream for a much needed sip of water. Scattered along the forest floor were the bodies of hundreds of Monarch less fortunate than he. These would provided necessary nourishment for small creatures who roamed the forest floor at night in search of a meal.
Gulliver was about to begin the last chapter of his great adventure. He had work to do. Gulliver needed to engage in the serious business of finding a mate. Because the cooler climate had kept him inactive, he had used little of his fat reserves over the winter months, so he did not need to spend his time and energies building up more fat reserves.
Gulliver's migratory instinct was once again taking over. It was time to move north. He also needed to engage in his most important mission which was to mate. He was a large fellow, still bright orange and quite strong. These were characteristics he would need for mating.
During the next several days, Gulliver mated several times. The sense of urgency that had driven him earlier was not as noticeable now. He was free to fly along at a slow pace feeding along the way as needed and, when conditions were favorable, to ride the winds and thermals that came his way. He also could travel much further each day than the females which he continued to seek. Within a few weeks, Gulliver's offspring from females he had mated with would begin their journey Northward. The females had work to do. They would need to spend much of their time and energy stopping to lay eggs along the way and replenishing their energy supplies. They would soon be too weak to continue the journey north and would die. Many, however, would have journeyed for hundreds of miles. But the mission of insuring that a new generation of Monarch would be born had been completed.
Meanwhile, Gulliver continued to move steadily northeastward. He had traveled hundreds of miles and he was quickly losing the fat reserves he had been relying on.(15) In addition to water, he fed on nectar from the early spring flowers he found along the way. It did not matter whether Gulliver continued on his course northeast or not. He had fulfilled his job as a Monarch having mated several times. His wings were very faded and tattered and his abdomen was thin. But despite this, Gulliver continued on his journey.
One day late in April, in the Flint Hills of Kansas, having lived almost nine months, Gulliver could fly no more. His wings were still. His had been a very eventful life, having made the trip south to Mexico and back. And, like his mother, he had been driven to mate in an attempt to assure that he left some offspring. Is this the wisdom of nature? How can we explain this drive or genetic programming? What a magnificent journey and what a magnificent life!
If future generations are to continue to enjoy the timeless beauty afforded by the Monarch, we must take our stewardship of the Monarchs' natural habitats and overwintering sites seriously.
Extinction of species and populations is increasing at an alarming rate. Our admiration for the Monarch butterfly's elegance and beauty will not be enough. Unless we all work together to preserve the Monarch's summer and winter habitats, the number of Monarchs will decline and the migration will disappear. Despite efforts to protect them, the special places in Mexico called "magic circles" where the Monarchs overwinter are in danger. The people who live in the area are poor and the land and trees where the Monarchs gather are valuable. The trees are a major source of income for these people. While the Mexican government has taken steps to protect the Monarch roosting sites, poaching of trees continues and the forest areas are diminishing. If the magnificent migration of the Monarchs is to continue, a way will have to be found to balance the needs of the growing human population in Mexico with the needs of the Monarch. The future of the Monarch is in our hands.