The Monarch Butterfly or Milkweed Butterfly (Danaus plexippus) is a rare visitor to the south of the UK, often blown off course from its migratory route from Northern most breeding grounds of Canada to Mexico. When migrating, Monarchs can travel over 1,800 miles often preferring to over winter in California.
Soon, this species instead of flying over land will be journeying over two hundred miles from Earth as scientific researchers take ten day old larvae to monitor their lifecycles in a weightless environment whilst children in schools all over America will simulatneously be raising Earth bound larvae in their classrooms. The experiment will highlight the behaviours and lifecyles of the butterflies in microgravity environments and used by schools as comparison monitoring.
Principal investigator on this project Louis Stodieck( Director of Bioserve) said “One of the most exciting things about this project is that we can use the International Space Station to bring spaceflight experiments into classrooms around the country,” he said. “Our continuing goal is to inspire K-12 students around the country in science, technology, engineering and math.”
Also accompanying the Monarch, will be six day old Painted Lady Butterfly (Vanessa cardui) larvae, another migrant to Britain. This species, originally from the Atlas mountains migrate to the UK and in September this year, their numbers were estimated at a billion by Butterfly Conservation. Unfortunately, the increasing amount of migrants to Britain are forcing the native species of butterfly numbers to decline.
Although the ecology of the two butterfly species is an invaluable eduction for chidren and the public, it is difficult to determine the reason behind the awareness of experiments with ecological systems in microgravity. Far better to encourage education of species here on Earth and to understand the impact that migrant species have on native animals and their habitats, thereby increasing conservation action and awareness, than perhaps, justifying which animals will be allowed up in the ‘arc’ should we have destroyed Earth and have to live in space.
The “Butterflynauts” along with suitable habitat and enough food sources will be boarding the space shuttle Atlantis heading for the ISS (International Space Station) on November 16th 2009. The photos and videos directly from ISS will be avaiable via bioedonline
More about Butterflies from Butterfly Conservation