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Monarch Outreach Ideas, by Candy Sarikonda

May 20, 2014


  • Conservation Stories

Monarch season is upon us, and many of us are preparing educational programs and events.  If you are looking for some ideas for your monarch events, I have a few to share.  

I like to do public events, where I have the opportunity to engage a large number of people in a short period of time.  During a 3-4 hour event, you can provide a variety of activities to engage a number of participants, including youth or adult and new or experienced monarch watchers. Plan well in advance, and you can have a spectacular event!

Gather volunteers early on, and decide who has expertise in what area.  Then assign people to activities that utilize their expertise. At a typical event, I like to offer a formal presentation on monarchs and gardening with native plants; a craft area for families; a local native plant grower who can set up a table and offer milkweed and nectar plants for sale as well as planting advice; free milkweed plugs or seeds and monarch educational literature; and live native butterflies and caterpillars for educational display.

It is fun to see what resources you have available, and pull those resources together.  I start by seeing which volunteers are available and what they have to share.  Some volunteers may be knowledgeable about the life cycle and can help with life cycle displays; others might like to share a favorite monarch story time or craft; still others might prefer to engage participants in a monarch scavenger hunt, lead a garden tour, or conduct a monitoring workshop of an on-site milkweed patch.  Get to know your volunteers, and the ideas will come quickly.

Engage local businesses to help out by providing food or drinks for volunteers, craft materials, advertising for the event, or even a venue for the event.  Don't hesitate to ask, you may be surprised at what you receive.

Try to plan activities for both adults and families.  For the adults, you can have educational posters on display with a local expert to answer questions, or provide a formal power point presentation on a topic of interest to attendees.  For the young families, you can offer a multitude of craft activities.  Visit the Wild Ones website for craft ideas, or simply google "butterfly and caterpillar craft." Families often enjoy making seedballs, creating lifecycles from different shapes of pasta, making caterpillars from pom poms or marshmallows glued together, or creating badges that say "I am a Citizen Scientist" or "I am a Monarch Expert--Ask Me a Question." Please take a look at the activities provided on the Wild Ones website You will find free printouts for name badges, coloring pages, monarch monitoring/data collection sheets appropriate for kids, instructions for creating a lifecycle craft, printable monarch cutouts for creating your own monarch "cluster" and more.  Visit the Wild for Monarchs blog page to learn what others are doing and get ideas for your event

Always do your best to have a small number of live butterflies or caterpillars on display.  Having live monarchs will help tremendously to engage the public and make them fall in love with monarchs and their habitat.  But do not be tempted to rear large numbers of monarchs for your event.  There is no need for a large monarch release.  Monarchs should not be seen simply as entertainment.  Large releases put tremendous pressure on a presenter to rear butterflies for such purpose--presenters have no control over whether or not monarchs will be in their adult, larval or pupal stage at the time of the event, and it is very easy to get disease when rearing large numbers of caterpillars.  I have found it far more effective instead to provide the public with a hands-on experience with the monarchs.  I like to rear a small number of monarchs, and place them in mesh enclosures for people to view.  Inside such an enclosure, I can display eggs on leaves, larvae on potted milkweed plants and adults with nectar plants.  I often place a potted milkweed plant in a mesh enclosure, with larvae on the plant.  As people visit my display, I can take the plant out of the enclosure and hand it to the visitor to hold--and they can closely observe the caterpillar feeding, and understand the connection between milkweed and monarchs.  Another thing I like to do is to give people a hands-on experience with monarch adults.  I use a camping tent, or large walk-in mesh enclosure, or even a small room in a conference building.  I place 6-12 monarch adults inside the tent, and invite people inside.  Inside the tent I also have a tray of nectar, and pots or vases of native nectar plants.  I tell visitors about the monarchs, and place a monarch on each willing person's hand or shirt. I can then explain and demonstrate for visitors a number of things--how monarchs uncurl their proboscis and dip it into a flower to feed; the difference between a male and female monarch; how butterflies have sticky tarsi for gripping and taste with their feet; how they use their antennae for navigation and smell; how to tag a monarch, and more.  This is a wonderful opportunity to answer questions for people.  These are the "teachable moments" that many of us educators refer to, the moments that stick with visitors and lead them to retain what you teach them.  I guarantee you, having this close-up experience with a butterfly will be far more effective than any large butterfly release.  At the end of the event, you can release this small number of butterflies and still wow the crowd as they watch "their" butterfly fly off.  And now that you have captured the public's interest, send them home with a milkweed plug, seedball or nectar plant to start their very own butterfly habitat! 

On my flickr page, I have posted a number of events that colleagues and I have done, including events in which I have used a tent or walk-in enclosure.  To see what this looks like, visit my flickr page  An event I participated in at Matthaei Botanical Garden shows the tent idea very clearly   The event at the Lake Erie Islands Nature Center shows me using the tent to do tagging demonstrations  Feel free to see what interests you and adapt ideas for your needs.

“In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we know, and we will know only what we are taught.”  Baba Dioum

I think that says it all.