Throughout September and early October, Monarch butterflies pass through the D.C. metro area as they make their annual migration south from Canada to Mexico.
If you are lucky, you may see these beautiful creatures hovering around your flowers looking for nectar. Other nearby spots typically great for monarch spotting is , just off Russell Road at 320 Beverly Drive, and the Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Woodbridge.
Monarchs are the only butterflies that make such an impressive migration each year. Normal adults only live for about four or five weeks. But each autumn, a special group of monarchs are born, known as the Methuselah generation. These super butterflies can live for six to eight months, allowing them to migrate southward to winter in warmer climates. Somehow, generation after generation fly the same migration patterns, often returning to the very same trees as their ancestors. How cool is that?
Most tots don't have to be convinced that butterflies are cool. But the concept of migration is pretty neat, too, and offers a unique opportunity to incorporate geography, science and environmental conservation into the conversation.
Pull out a map of North America to show kids how monarchs travel between Canada and central Mexico each year, or take a trip to the Smithsonian's outdoor Butterfly Habitat Garden to learn about the plants that monarchs love. For a small fee, you can get up close and personal with the butterflies at the Smithsonian's indoor Butterfly Pavillion at the Museum of Natural History.
Plant a butterfly garden so that next spring and fall the butterflies can make pitstop at your house. Make sure not to use pesticides or herbicides, as they also kill the butterflies.
For the younger set, Eric Carle's "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" is a gorgeous book that follows the metamorphasis from caterpillar to butterfly.