The lessons of butterflies - Teacher talks about life in the garden, in the classroom
Written by By WILL MALONE Sentinel Staff Writer
Saturday, 29 August 2009 06:46
PERRYSBURG - Susan Garn is one of those teachers whose life inside and outside the classroom is actually pretty similar.
At school, the township resident is bringing the secret world of nature to students in her biology classes at Perrysburg High School.
And, at home, she is back in the garden - turning over flora and fauna in search of butterfly eggs, praying mantises and other little-seen natural phenomena that young people might miss in their bustling lives outside of class. As a student once told her, she lives her work.
Young people's interest in nature's outstanding organisms keeps her looking for the tell-tale signs of the migrating, majestic Monarch butterfly. Through the butterflies, she teaches a reliable lesson about the value of hard work, curiosity and the cycle of life.
"It's always fun to see them learning and excited about something," she said.
She learned the butterflies' lesson as a young girl on a 500-acre farm, where she used to pull the milkweed - a favorite butterfly snack - from the soybean plants that her father sold in the summer.
She would sometimes save caterpillars that clung to leaves and learned from her own teacher that the chrysalises they formed would later produce the orange and black insect ambassadors from Mexico. Then, years later, she would help her children place the caterpillars in jars so they too could witness the metamorphosis. And, when her children grew up and left like the butterflies, she shared the secret of the pupae with her grandchildren.
Her grandchildren mark her butterflies' progress every day, she said. They watch as each creature enters the chrysalis stage as a green and gold caterpillar.
"Yet, it comes out this orange and black, very definite butterfly," she said. "And so they're absolutely fascinated with the metamorphosis."
Each season, Garn becomes a steward of second- and third-generation butterflies. The first generation travels from Mexico to Michigan to lay the season's first eggs in March and April. By June, the second generation of butterflies begins to move south. Around that time, Garn begins inspecting her milkweed plants for the tiny white eggs before predators in the garden find them first.
As soon as the eggs produce caterpillars, she tears off the leaves and the caterpillars and places them in a plastic container with milkweed and water inside her home. They will hang out there for about two weeks, munching and eliminating until they begin a summit to the top of the container to form chrysalises. At that point, she takes the pupae outside and tapes them under a plank between two stepladders.
After about 10 days to two weeks, butterflies will hatch out and begin laying a new generation of eggs before their journey south.
So far, Garn has found about 100 caterpillars and only two did not turn into butterflies.
At the moment, she counts 13 chrysalises and 18 caterpillars from the third generation. Since no caterpillars have been seen in the last couple of days, Garn said her most recent finds might represent the last butterflies of the season.
For Garn, all of that work is worth seeing proof that her efforts made a difference when the butterflies hatch and take flight in search of flowers in her garden.
She also finds a reward in cultivating curiosity in young minds.
"I always think our children are like the song we give to the next generation," she said. "You put a melody to them, but they get to write their own words."
Much like raising the butterflies, Garn offers her students the gifts of knowledge and then waits and hopes to see if those lessons yield "beautiful butterflies" when the students become adults.
"You just hope that for them," she said. "I think that's what the flower gardening and the butterflies and raising children are all about."