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Migrating Monarchs and Trekking Timber wolves on the Internet

By Elissa Elliott

Type of Entry:

  • Project

Type of Activity:

  • Hands-on activity
  • Inquiry lab
  • Group/cooperative learning
  • Community outreach/off-site activity
  • Multi-subject integration

Target Audience:

  • Life Science
  • Biology
  • Anatomy/AP Biology
  • Environmental studies
  • Special needs (gifted, ESL, LEP)
  • Special education (LD, EBD)
  • Other special needs (visually impaired, hearing impaired)

Notes to Teacher:

This project is a yearlong tracking and migration project using the monarch butterfly, the timber wolf, and the Internet. There are three phases to the project: the first is to raise a monarch population and experiment with them, the second is to learn about the wolf using a wolf learning box, and the third is to track both the monarch and the wolf on the Internet. It is a project that has been compiled by Elissa Elliott from the following research and Internet sources: the Monarch Project at the University of Minnesota, St. Paul, directed by Dr. Karen Oberhauser and colleagues; the Monarch Watch program at the University of Kansas, Lawrence, directed by Dr. Orley Taylor and colleagues; the Basic Intensive Wolf Study Course at the International Wolf Center in Ely, Minnesota, and the International Wolf Center Home Page; the wolf learning box designed by Karlyn Atkinson Berg; the Journey North Home Page directed by Elizabeth Donnelly; and finally, another teacher colleague, De Cansler, in Rochester, MN, who has raised butterflies in her classroom for the past five years.

Student requirements:

In the first phase, the students learn and observe the life cycle of a monarch butterfly. They facilitate continuation of monarch life by optimizing light, heat, food, and space requirements for their own butterflies. They then experiment with habitats and conditions of their monarch, attempting to answer questions they may have concerning their monarch. In addition to classroom and home activities, the students begin an effort to stop the deforestation of the monarch wintering grounds by establishing communication with the Mexican government. In the second phase, the students learn how wolves maintain complex social structure through scent, communications, and postures. The students identify and discuss the decline of wolf populations and ongoing wolf environmental issues. And finally, the students interact with other classrooms and scientists via the Internet to communicate changes in population position, to calculate daylength differences, to ask questions regarding tracking/migrations, and to gain information about various population problems.

Preparation time needed:

Since this is a yearlong project, there are many activities involved. Preparation time would vary with the type of class and whether it is an elementary or secondary class. Four to five hours of preparatory time per week (outside of school time) is not unusual.

Class time needed:

Again, the time depends entirely on the age level of the students and how much information they can soak up at one time. In my high school classroom, I allow the students to spend the first 10 minutes of every 45 minute period working on the activity at hand, whether it be weighing and measuring their caterpillars or graphing and comparing the photoperiods of various areas.


This project requires that the students raise their own monarchs and offspring and perform experiments with them, journalizing their observations and ideas. They track the migration of the monarch northward on the Internet, working together with other students to assimilate information regarding wind, weather, daylength, and temperature and how it affects the journey north. They are able to formulate questions and receive answers from the researchers and scientists on Journey North. The students are involved in conservation efforts, writing letters to the Mexican government, asking how we can help save the few monarch wintering grounds that are left.

The students also learn about the wolf-- how it maintains a complex social structure through scent, communications, and postures. From a 12-station wolf box, the students are able to manipulate wolf habitats, compare prey skulls, sniff wolf-related scents, feel a wolf pelt, diagnose wolf/prey sicknesses, differentiate dominant/submissive wolf postures, create wolf/prey tracks, compare wolf/prey scat, and discuss environmental impacts. In addition, students track Superior National Forest radio-collared wolves on the Internet and interact with scientists to communicate changes in population position, to calculate daylength differences, to ask questions regarding tracking/migrations, and to gain information about various population problems. They are able to discuss the very real and immediate pros and cons of reintroducing the wolves into various areas and are able to formulate an opinion based on knowledge.


What question does this activity help students answer?

This tracking/migration project stems from a need for students to direct their own learning and to gain a sense of responsibility for their own learning. It provides personal, hands-on, interactive learning for my students that immediately shows them the interconnectedness of all living things and highlights how a student's decision can have a global impact.



Monarch Project:

Detailed information on how to set up and take care of a butterfly population can be found on the Monarch Watch home page World Wide Web site or you can reach them by e-mail at [email protected]

  • monarch larvae (sources below)

    • Monarch Watch
      c/o Dr. Orley Taylor
      Dept. of Entomology
      Univ. of Kansas
      Lawrence, KS 66045

    • Dr. Karen Oberhauser
      Univ. of Minnesota
      Dept. of Ecology
      100 Ecology Building
      St. Paul, MN 55108

  • petri dishes as growing chambers

  • balance and mm rulers

  • 2' x 2' x 2' cages

  • light and heat sources

  • milkweed (enough to freeze over winter, if applicable

  • several live milkweed plants for females to lay eggs on

  • nectar (20% solution honey-water)

  • microscopes and slides, if testing for parasites

  • carpet roll from local carpet distributor if building the oyamel fir tree (directions in curriculum offered through U of M)

  • plywood for base of tree

  • green butcher paper for branches and leaves

  • laminated map of the United States and Mexico (National Geographic Society Maps, (800)368-2728)

  • colored stickers to map migration

  • Journey North materials (The Annenberg/CPB Math and Science Collection, PO Box 2345, S. Burlington, VT 05407-2345, (800) 965-7373).

    Wolf Project: Details and activities on the timber wolf can be found on the International Wolf Center home page http://www.wolf.org or you can reach them at the International Wolf Center, 1396 Highway 169, Ely, Minnesota 55731, (800) ELY-WOLF.

    Additional information on the timber wolf can be obtained in a teacher's guide offered by the Science Museum of Minnesota, 30 E. 10th St., St. Paul, MN 55101, for approximately $10.

    Information on the wolf learning box containing 12 learning stations can be obtained directly from Karlyn Atkinson Berg, 1595 Bittner Point Road, Bovey, Minnesota 55709, (218) 245-3049.

  • slides or videos of the wolf collection of stories and artists' representations of the wolf in history (libraries and museums are great resources)

  • wolf box (see above for source)

  • laminated Superior National Forest Center Section maps (can be ordered from Superior National Forest, PO Box 338, Duluth, Minnesota 55801, (218) 720-5324).

  • overhead transparency markers


This project is a yearlong tracking and migration project where each student studies the anatomies, physiologies, and ecologies of the monarch butterfly and the timber wolf and then tracks their migrations and/or movements using the Internet.

Each of the students receives a monarch egg at the beginning of the year. The students' first two projects are to journal the life cycle of the monarch and to gather enough food (milkweed) to freeze for the winter generations.

To simulate the Mexican wintering grounds of the monarch, we build a seven-foot tall oyamel fir tree and cover it with our individually painted origami monarchs to learn the coloration differences between the male and female and to create a situation where we can discuss conservation of the wintering grounds. The students are then taught to test for the parasite protozoan that plagues the monarchs and to properly dispose of contaminated butterflies.

As each butterfly emerges, the students have to check it for parasites, weigh it, number it, and identify the sex. All this information is written in our classroom monarch log. The butterflies are placed in a 2' x 2' x 2' cage under thirteen hours of light a day, with intermittent heat. The students feed their butterflies, using sponges soaked in a 20% honey-water solution. After proper maturation, the students attempt to hand-mate their butterflies. If a butterfly couple "latches on", the students place them in our "honeymoon suite" for up to 12 hours of mating. In the next 2-3 days, milkweed plants are placed in the cage so that the females can lay their hundreds of eggs.

The second generation eggs are then distributed for experimentation. The students design personal experiments with multiple caterpillars to test a problem they have formulated, using a control to compare results. [Ideally, we can keep the population going all year, but due to first year attempts, we had parasite problems and a milkweed shortage, so our butterflies slowly died out in January.]

The students at this point attempt to reach past the classroom environment by writing a letter to the Mexican government (in Spanish, of course), requesting information on how we might help the efforts to save the monarch wintering grounds from continued deforestation.

The second phase of this project is a thorough study of the wolf, a part of our natural habitat in northern Minnesota. We begin by discussing wolves in literature and art and how they are typically portrayed. The students must then design and write a short children's book with text and illustrations that represents what they know at the present moment about wolf biology and ecology. We examine their stories for pervasive thoughts in their writing.

The students view slides of a trip up to the International Wolf Center in Ely, MN, where they learn about wolf tracking, wolf dominant/submissive behaviors, and the wolf's environmental surroundings. They then try to use the Internet information on the radio-collared wolves in the Superior National Forest to begin tracking the wolves. They plot the wolves' movements and determine pack lines and where den sites must be.

After gaining a little more experience with wolf ecology, the students explore the 12 stations of a wolf box, specifically designed to introduce the wolf, its habitat, and its political issues to the inquiring student. The stations include: manipulating wolf habitats, comparing prey skulls, sniffing wolf-related scents, feeling a wolf pelt, diagnosing wolf/prey sicknesses, differentiating dominant/submissive wolf postures, creating wolf/prey tracks, comparing wolf/prey scat, and discussing environmental impacts.

The students then interact with an International Wolf Center speaker regarding wolf ecology and current issues. To test their knowledge in the field, they observe and record data comparing wolf interactions and characteristics at the Minnesota Zoo Wolf Exhibit. And as a final culmination of their experiences, they write haiku and cinquain poetry to describe the wolf as they see it now. For further extension, we read, discuss, and debate various wolf articles and current crises in wolf populations.

The third phase of our project involves the Internet. We have one U.S./Mexico map for the migration of the monarch on Journey North and group Superior National Forest Center Section maps for tracking of the timber wolves on the Wolf Studies Project. Each week the students are able to document changes and formulate questions regarding tracking, migration, research, or weather and receive direct answers from scientists and researchers in the field. And finally, the students are required to design and perform an Internet experiment, using the Internet to investigate and solve a question they have come up with over the course of the year.

Method of Assessment/Evaluation

In a project like this I look for gradual changes in students' perspective and insight over the course of the year. Since this is not very practical when it comes to grading time, I do set up parameters for each activity and grade each activity as a separate entity. I use detailed rubrics quite often so that I can give the students my expectations before they start their activity and so that they know exactly what to expect from me. I like to evaluate conceptually, others like to evaluate differently. It depends on the teacher.

Extension/Reinforcement/Additional Ideas

I would eventually like to reach the point where we can explore hereditary relationships of the butterflies with DNA extraction and gel electrophoresis. [The students do these processes now but not with anything that has personal connection to them.] The students have a sense of ownership and responsibility for the monarchs and record which butterfly mates with which butterfly, so it would prove to them that DNA is definitely the blueprint of life and that it is passed on generation after generation after generation.

I would also like to take trips next year with a few of my students-- one trip to the International Wolf Center in Ely, MN, and the other trip to Mexico to see the monarchs in their wintering grounds.

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