"A butterfly goes wherever it pleases, and pleases wherever it goes."

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Painted Ladies: To Raise and Release?

In Vietnam’s Tam Dao National Park I’ll be helping scientist Dr. Vu Van Lien and his assistants monitor the park’s butterfly population, and one way to help my fourth-graders connect to my work and learn about butterflies is to provide them with first-hand experience observing the metamorphosis of caterpillars to butterflies. Raising a butterfly called the painted lady is a common activity in kindergarten, first and second grades, but not for intermediate teachers like myself (grades 3, 4 and 5). The activity is relatively inexpensive, simple, takes little preparation, something I’ve never done before, and is definitely high interest for students, so I decided to try it out.

With the guidance of our kindergarten teacher, I was able to get everything I needed, including the caterpillars, a flight cage, food, and a well-filmed and informative nine minute video on the metamorphosis. Each student has claimed and named one caterpillar, which arrived April 11th. Since then these caterpillars have grown rapidly, living on a paste of a plant called malva and vitamins that students spread on the bottom of small plastic container cages. Every morning my students look for evidence of molting and signs that their caterpillars are beginning to form into a “J”, that indicates they are starting to make a chrysalis. I’m guessing that Monday morning we’ll see some beginning chrysalis formations. Once that has occurred, it takes about ten days for the butterfly to emerge. Sounds like a fun unit? It is, unless you believe that what I’m doing is hurting the environment and endangering the local butterfly population.

Some entomologists (scientists who study insects) and the North American Butterfly Association believe that releasing farm raised butterflies such as our painted ladies into the wild is detrimental to our environment. In a nutshell, here are their concerns:

The farm raised butterflies might carry diseases that could be spread to the wild local butterflies when released
  • The farm raised butterflies could interbreed with wild butterflies, causing genetic deterioration. This means that the “blueprints” for future butterflies could be damaged, so that they won’t have all the necessary characteristics needed to lead normal healthy butterfly lives
  • These farm raised butterflies might not be naturally found in my local area, and by releasing them they might eat the food that the native butterflies need to survive
  • Some people, including teachers, don’t treat the butterflies with care and respect, and may cause them to suffer and die prematurely. One example of this is a teacher who has her students release farm raised butterflies in the middle of a snowy winter, when they have no chance of finding food.
  • Teachers aren’t the only ones purchasing butterfly larvae. Many are purchased by people who release them at special events such as weddings, and those people may pay up to ten dollars for one butterfly. Because the butterflies are worth so much money, some people have started capturing and selling wild butterflies (poaching), and this could cause some butterflies to become endangered.

All of the concerns above are reasonable and should be considered before purchasing farm raised caterpillars. However, there are a few facts that need to be mentioned. According to Professor of natural sciences and humanities at the University of Wyoming and author of the book “Locust” Jeffrey A. Lockwood says that no one has been able to prove that there has been harm to the environment by releasing farm and classroom raised butterflies. As to the concern that butterflies might be released in areas where they cannot find food or that might not be suitable for them to survive, the United States Department of Agriculture only allows butterfly larvae to be shipped to states that have appropriate habitat for that type of butterfly. The International Butterfly Breeders Association’s web page provides many links to research showing no detrimental effects of releasing farmed butterflies. There is one way to address the concerns raised is by continuing to raise them in classrooms but not release them into the wild. Instead, it has been suggested that teachers simply “put them in a freezer” to end their lives after students have watched them flutter around for a week or two.

What do you think? Should teachers continue to be allowed to have their students raise and release painted ladies, or should the process be banned as being too risky to the wild butterfly populations? What do you think of the freezing idea? How would you feel if I froze (and thus killed) your butterfly? Would freezing them teach students respect and kindness or cruelty? Do you think the benefits of raising and releasing butterflies is worth the risk? Tell me what you think!

Monday, April 16, 2007

Personal Preparations

Getting my Visa and plane ticket were my first preparation priorities, but there was (and remains) much more to do. I'll elaborate on classroom preparations in a later entry.

First, I had to find a Hanoi hotel to stay in for one night. Using comments left by users at Tripadvisor.com, I decided not to stay at the volunteer rendezvous hotel De Syloia, instead opting for Hanoi Elegance II--the latter is cheaper, offers free internet, and has better reviews.

I need a laptop computer on this trip, but the hamsters that power my school Acer (given to me in a Gates grant in 2002) are very old, slow, and unreliable. My husband's laptop is quite new but huge--a 17 inch screen, and after lugging it around in New York City with it for four days he recommended that I not bring it. So I looked around for a few weeks, asked for recommendations, and finally purchased one from HP. At under 5 pounds it should be relatively easy to carry, but what sold me was the cool black cover.

Because Vietnam uses a number of different electrical outlet plugs, I had to purchase an adaptor and voltage converter, so that I could safely recharge my computer, cell phone, and camera batteries (and blow dry my hair).

I'll be a volunteer for nine days, but the only laundry service is done by hand, and volunteers are warned that their clothes will return stretched a bit. So I decided to purchase clothing that wouldn't wrinkle much when packed or if washed in a sink and drip dried.

I also purchased Vietnam tour guidebooks, to learn about Vietnam's history, customs, simple phrases, and things to do and see (in case I get a bit of free time). In my readings I learned that I'll need sleeves (short or long) and a skirt or dress when visiting temples, that touching strangers' heads is not appropriate, and that common questions Vietnamese will ask include my age and marriage status. The teacher who traveled on this trip last year had an elderly woman grab her middle to feel her belly in an attempt to determine how wealthy she was. Too bad I lost 20 pounds the past year and a half on Weight Watchers!

Because we'll be in the mountains, walking every day, it's strongly recommended that we come in relatively good physical shape. Having walked 2 miles on our treadmill every day this winter has paid off. I've also started biking 14 miles a couple of days a week.

Finally, I've found three videos on Vietnam, only one of which is appropriate to show my students. The two I'm not going to show are both quite dated. One focuses too much on the war, and the other is a bit too graphic and upsetting (too many descriptions and pictures of customs and foods that are not considered acceptable in our society). I was particularly saddened by the animal markets, where anyone can, at any time, purchase monkeys, wild cats, even some endangered species, to make potions that are believed to cure ailments.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

My Travelmates

Today I learned that the volunteer team I'll be working with in Vietnam is a group of five total, all from the United States. Three of us, including myself, are teachers, and it's possible the other two are teachers as well, but I haven't yet contacted them. My last Earthwatch expedition had a total of nine volunteers, and only two of us were American citizens. Of this trip's group, two are from Colorado, one from Massachusetts, one from North Carolina, and then there's me from Washington State. The two from the east coast will likely be flying east to Hanoi, while I fly west. The two from Colorado could travel either way, but I am hoping that they will head west like myself, and that we'll even be on some of the flights together. That would make my 14+ hour layover in Seoul a bit more enjoyable. I'd love to explore Seoul but without speaking the language, alone, and with onlyhalf a day, this is a bit daunting.

Three Teachers--Jeff, Rachel and Beth

Three Teachers--Jeff, Rachel and Beth

Red and Yellow

Red and Yellow
This one is beautiful and also quite common

Rare Green Butterfly

Rare Green Butterfly
This one is drinking water from a waterfall we hiked to

Tam Dao Classroom

Tam Dao Classroom
Yes, this is an actual classroom being used

Rachel at a Classroom Teacher's Desk in Tam Dao Primary and Secondary School

Rachel at a Classroom Teacher's Desk in Tam Dao Primary and Secondary School
Yes, this is an actual teacher desk

Tam Dao was once a summer retreat for wealthy French families when France occupied Vietnam

Tam Dao was once a summer retreat for wealthy French families when France occupied Vietnam
This is what's left of one French villa--there were over 400 here at one time, but were destroyed by the Vietnamese people in the 1950s

Hanoi Time