Monarch Butterflies: The Life & Science

Monarch Butterflies: Migratory Patterns & Citizen Scientists Opportunities

Tagged Monarch Butterfly

What to organize a Monarch Butterfly tagging effort? Monarch Watch has instructions and kits with tags for tracking.

Monarch butterflies make perhaps the most epic of all migratory journeys. Though their long trek can sometimes take up to four generations to complete, it spans an almost unbelievably large portion of North America. The butterflies begin high in the mountains of southwestern Mexico, and, come springtime, gradually work their way as far north as Saskatchewan, Canada and as far east as Maine and the southernmost parts of New Brunswick. The distinctive black-and-orange butterflies lay their eggs along the way, and depend on the availability of milkweed-filled habitat throughout their journey. While no one butterfly makes the round trip from Mexico to Maine and back again, the pattern of monarch movement across the continent is incredibly sophisticated and, at times, beautiful.

Because the monarch needs such specific habitat – young monarch caterpillars eat only milkweed – the opportunity to stop and lay eggs has become much more limited than it once was. Due to human development of land and genetically engineered farming techniques, meadows with milkweed can be rare, and the butterflies must try much harder in order to complete the full cycle of their journey. In order to track the changes in population and the preferred landing grounds of monarchs, a number of Citizen Scientist initiatives have been developed. All around the United States (with the exception of states west of the Rockies), butterflies are being tracked and studied – and your family can help as a citizen scientist…

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Discovering Clave: Afro-Cuban Rhythm

Following the Butterflies through Words and Rhythm

While on tour in Mexico, Mister G talks about how his bilingual song, “Señorita Mariposa” was inspired by the famous migration of the Monarch Butterfly to the state of Michoacan. He emphasizes how close observation of nature can become the jumping off point for new songs. Before performing “Señorita Mariposa,” Mister G demonstrates the traditional Afro-Cuban rhythm known as clave.

Mister G’s song “Senorita Mariposa” was inspired by the famous migration of the Monarch butterflies each winter to the Sierra Madre Mountains of Mexico. Like Mister G, the butterflies can’t stand freezing weather and so they fly south to a warmer climate. The butterflies return to the exact same tree every year, but they are increasingly in danger as developers cut down the forest in order for human development. To help protect the Monarch butterfly habitat, visit www.michoacanmonarchs.org.

“Senorita Mariposa” is a bilingual song, meaning that some of the lyrics are in Spanish and some are in English.  Mister G uses rhyming words throughout the song, such as “mariposa” and “hermosa.” Mariposa is the Spanish word for butterfly. Hermosa means beautiful, which makes good sense as the song is about a beautiful little butterfly. Curious to learn more Spanish words? Go to www.spanishdict.com and type in any English word and the program will instantly translate.

The steady rhythm that plays throughout “Senorita Mariposa” is called clave. The clave rhythm is found in much traditional Afro-Cuban and Latin music and is played on two small pieces of wood called claves. Musicians from around the world have used clave, including the Beatles on their song, “And I Love Her.”

What to look forward to next month:

Next month in Under the Hat: How do tempo and dynamics affect mood in music? More than you might imagine! Playing examples from his songs, “Grilled Cheese” and “Mono en mis Manos” Mister G illustrates how tempo and dynamics are powerful tools used by songwriters to create different moods for the audience.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mister G (Ben Gundersheimer) is an Amherst College graduate who spent 20 years as a singer/songwriter/producer in the adult music world prior to earning a Masters in Elementary Education at Smith College and transitioning to making music for children.  His most recent release, CHOCOLALALA, a collection of original, bilingual (Spanish/English) songs for children, won a Parents’ Choice Gold Award and is on the Grammy ballot for Best Children’s Album of 2012. A leading figure in the kids music world, Mister G’s 2011 bilingual release, BUGS garnered numerous national awards and was dubbed “irresistible” by People magazine. www.mistergsongs.com

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