Here are answers to some of the questions we've received since we announced this Monarchs in Space program. If you have other questions not addressed here please feel free to ask them in the Monarchs in Space Forum.
Why are we sending monarchs into space?
Sending monarchs into space offers an opportunity to teach children many intricacies of monarch biology. Further, it will be instructive to see how monarchs function in a microgravity environment in which near weightlessness is the prevailing condition. As you will see in the companion guide (which will be posted soon), there are at least five stages during the monarch’s development where the absence of normal gravity could be a factor in how well they function. The observations made during this experiment will provide some insights concerning basic monarch biology and will add more to our knowledge of how organisms, other than humans, might function in space. It is a win-win experiment. If the monarchs cannot perform certain tasks, such as successfully pupating, we will learn something about their limitations but also that gravity is essential for this function. On the other hand, if monarchs perform all life functions normally, in spite of the near weightless conditions, it will tell us that there are aspects of the monarch’s nervous control and physiology that allow for adjustments under such adverse conditions.
What if the shuttle flight is delayed?
As with all space shuttle missions this one could be delayed. The scrub dates are set for Tuesday 17th and Thursday 19th. If the mission does not take off in this time frame the next window for a flight is in the first week of December. Flight delays or cancellations are beyond our control.
From our perspective it is a go whether the shuttle goes or stays. We will be able to ship several thousand caterpillars during the week of November 9th and we certainly will not have that many to ship in December. So, we’d like to suggest that you order your kit now with the intention of recording – with photographs and notes - all the relevant data concerning how the monarchs develop in your classroom. This information can then be used to compare with the development of monarchs on the ISS when they make it there.
Are we targeting a particular age or grade range?
No. However, the activities are geared toward school-aged children.
Will the monarchs raised by students be sent to the International Space Station (ISS)?
Can we release our monarchs?
Releases are not advised. These are not migratory monarchs and it is already too late in the season. The next challenge might be to see how long you can keep your monarchs alive. They can be maintained at home or in the classroom on Gatorade for months, if relatively inactive.
Can we send our monarch butterflies to a warmer state?
No, federal permits from the USDA/APHIS are required for you to ship monarch to other states.
Will the monarchs emerge as adult butterflies during the Thanksgiving holiday?
No. If all goes according to plan, your larvae should pupate just before Thanksgiving and the butterflies will emerge after this holiday. The interval from introduction to emergence is expected to be 17-18 days depending on the temperatures in the classroom.
Will photos and videos of the monarchs on the ISS be provided?
Yes, videos and photos will be posted from time to time our website. Photos of your rearing containers and results may be submitted to online photo albums we will create for this project. If you keep a photo log of the conditions in your rearing chamber each day, it will be easier to compare the progress of your monarchs with those in the ISS.
What kind of record keeping will be involved?
We will provide a timeline that will give you an idea of what to expect during each day of the monarchs’ development. Your larvae, chrysalids, and adults may be one or two days faster or slower than this timeline depending on the day/night temperatures in your classroom. It might be helpful to place a cheap (less than $10) maximum/minimum digital thermometer (these are readily available at home improvement centers such as Home Depot and Lowes and other stores) next to your chamber so that the students can calculate the average daily temperature for your habitat.
Can I sponsor a school and pay for a kit myself?
Will the chambers actually produce butterflies?
Yes. It works for us and it should work for you. We already have pupae in the test chamber sent to us by BioServe Space Technologies.
Can individuals and/or home-schoolers participate in this program?
Yes, this program is not limited to classrooms.
Are there online locations where we can access all the instructions?
Yes. Everything you need will be provided right here at www.monarchwatch.org/space
Why are we excluding Canada and the western states?
Federal Law dictates that you must have a permit from USDA/APHIS to ship monarchs. Due to the high shipping costs and the amount of paperwork involved (permits & customs), we do not ship caterpillars to Canada. Permits are not issued to ship monarchs across the continental divide.
Can you bend the rules and send us a kit anyway?
No, that would be a violation of federal law. Several butterfly breeders have received significant fines for violating these rules.
Is there a western source for monarch caterpillars?
Yes, but none of the western butterfly shippers are prepared to ship caterpillars on an artificial diet that could be used in this context.
Is this for real?
Yes! The space shuttle Atlantis is scheduled to lift off on November 16th and to redezvous with the International Space Station two days later. We have worked with BioServe Space Technologies since April to develop a system of monarch rearing using the artificial diet that will work in transit and on the ISS. We have reared thousands of monarchs over the last 6 months on this diet. It works. The cost of the kit is low ($17.95) and doesn’t begin to cover all the costs we incur in maintaining the culture and producing the product you will use.
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