Rep. Brenda Carter and Sen. Rosemary Bayer hold up folders of thank-you cards from the students of Gretchko Elementary in West Bloomfield Township during a visit Nov. 1. The students were thanking them for supporting their efforts to designate the monarch butterfly as the official state insect.

Rep. Brenda Carter and Sen. Rosemary Bayer hold up folders of thank-you cards from the students of Gretchko Elementary in West Bloomfield Township during a visit Nov. 1. The students were thanking them for supporting their efforts to designate the monarch butterfly as the official state insect.

Photo by Deb Jacques


Students campaign to make monarch butterfly the state insect

By: Andy Kozlowski | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published November 14, 2019

 Addie Farms, a second grader at Gretchko Elementary, gets into the spirit with special monarch butterfly-themed headwear.

Addie Farms, a second grader at Gretchko Elementary, gets into the spirit with special monarch butterfly-themed headwear.

Photo by Deb Jacques

WEST BLOOMFIELD — About 125 second grade students at a local elementary school are on a quest to make the monarch butterfly the official state insect.

The students attend Gretchko Elementary School, located at 5300 Greer Road in West Bloomfield Township, part of the West Bloomfield School District. In recent months they’ve been writing letters to Michigan lawmakers, believing that the monarch butterfly’s survival could benefit from the boost in awareness that would come with being Michigan’s official state insect. Currently, Michigan is one of only two states that does not have its own state insect.

In response, state Sen. Rosemary Bayer and state Rep. Brenda Carter are currently sponsoring two bills, Senate Bill 581 and House Bill 4467, which would give the monarch butterfly this special classification, joining six other states that, like Michigan, are on the monarch’s migration path. The two lawmakers visited the students at Gretchko Elementary on Nov. 1 to discuss with them what happens next in the legislative process. They also collected additional letters from the students to be delivered to lawmakers who are still on the fence on the issue, and the students even performed a song about the butterfly.

The monarch butterfly is renowned for its beauty, with distinctive orange and black wings that feature a mitten-shaped pattern befitting of the Mitten State. They are also known for the astonishing feat of migrating across the country, with the last generation of monarch butterflies fluttering each summer to the mountains of central Mexico. This is unlike most butterflies in Michigan, which spend the winter in their pupa stage in a chrysalis. The monarch weighs less than half the weight of a penny, and yet it flies up to 2,000 miles. Along the way, it plays the crucial role of pollinator, helping flowers such as lavender, sunflowers and lupine to spread their genes, diversify and grow.

But now monarchs are in danger, since milkweed is in decline due to habitat loss caused by humans developing the land, as well as the use of herbicides.

Milkweed is the monarch butterfly’s food source as a caterpillar. While it’s highly toxic to other animals, the monarch caterpillars relish it, and eating milkweed makes them poisonous — a defense mechanism that they retain as adults. And the monarch’s coloration, while beautiful to humans, serves as a warning to potential predators to stay away, since they’re toxic.

Karen Meabrod, a special education paraprofessional at Gretchko Elementary, said that the students have been learning about the monarch’s fight for survival.

“Probably the most important lesson taught was the need to help protect the monarch by increasing its habitat,” Meabrod said.

According to MonarchWatch.org — a national organization committed to monarch conservation, research and education — land development in the U.S. consumes 6,000 acres a day, which per year equates to an area the size of Rhode Island and Delaware combined.

People can help by planting milkweed on their property to provide food and habitat for monarchs. There are several species of milkweed that the caterpillars eat to survive, which can be purchased at plant nurseries. It’s important, however, to make sure they do not contain neonicotinoids, which are insecticidal compounds that kill monarchs and other insects. Milkweed can be a pleasing addition to a garden, coming in a variety of colors, including orange, pink, purple and white, and producing a sweet scent.

The students at Gretchko Elementary have become experts on the subject. Mary Ann Ayar, a second grade teacher at Gretchko Elementary, explained the ways that the monarch butterfly has been integrated into the students’ curriculum. For example, her classroom utilizes an insect science kit that allows the students to observe the life cycle of the monarch butterfly. This led her and the other second grade teachers to realize that Michigan does not have a state insect to call its own — and that their students could play an important role in getting the monarch butterfly the recognition it deserves.

“It’s been a wonderful experience for our students to be a part of the process of a bill becoming a law,” Ayar said. “Every voice matters, especially the little ones.”