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Lepidopteral Liberation

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Thanks to the efforts of a Vermont kindergarten class, a monarch butterfly recently completed its autumnal migration to Florida in first-class style--nestled in a flower-filled box aboard a Continental Airlines jet.

Tina Ryan and her students at the Rutland Town (Vt.) School had spent the first few weeks of the school year watching with fascination and growing affection as their pet moved through its life-cycle from caterpillar to chrysalis to orange and black butterfly.

Unfortunately, by the time the process was completed it was far too cold for the winged beauty to undertake a long and hazardous journey to a warmer climate.

A science teacher at the school suggested that Ms. Ryan try the airlines. Most of those she contacted--including Continental at first--thought her request was only a silly prank, she recalled.

But the prospect of an inexpensive public-relations gesture eventually won over the Continental representatives, who offered to fly the butterfly to Fort Myers for free.

"We would have liked to have flown the butterfly to Melbourne, Fla., or to California, where we have heard there are a lot of monarchs," said Ms. Ryan. But airline officials were not sure the delicate insect could survive a transfer or a lengthy flight to the West Coast.

On the day of the flight, Ms. Ryan delivered the monarch--accompanied by another pet butterfly owned by a Rutland resident--to the airplane's crew, along with specific instructions on how to set the butterflies free upon their arrival.

The children learned a "great deal about the preservation and delicacy of nature," said the teacher, noting that their efforts will enable the butterfly to return north next spring--under its own wing power--to lay eggs.

If the kindergartners had harbored any doubts about their pet's chances of survival, Ms. Ryan said, they were put to rest when the class received photographs taken by a camera crew that greeted the butterfly at its destination.--jw

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