This morning, a few hundred monarch caterpillars are munching on milkweed leaves in clear plastic cartons set on sunlit window sills across Lawrence.
And in a couple weeks there should be a few hundred monarch butterflies fluttering around indoors.
"When they get to that point, you can catch them and take them outside," said Orley "Chip" Taylor, director of Monarch Watch program and a professor of biological sciences at Kansas University.
Taylor spent much of Saturday morning manning the popular find-a-caterpillar tent at Monarch Watch's open house outside Foley Hall on KU's west campus.
"You know what I'm going to call mine?" an excited Carter Williams, 8, asked his father, Billy Williams. "I'm going to call him Stripes."
The open house drew a steady stream of visitors. "The parking lot's been pretty much full all day," Taylor said. "It's great, this is just what we wanted. We want people to see what we do."
Monarch Watch is a conservation program dedicated to educating the public about monarchs and gaining a better understanding of the factors that affect the butterfly's well-being.
A few yards from the caterpillar tent, Tony Swatek, a St. Louis senior majoring in entomology, demonstrated the proper techniques for safely holding, tagging and releasing monarchs.
"Mom, the butterfly tickled me!" said one of Swatek's students, Josephine Myers, a second-grader at Sunflower School. "Oooh, I can see its tongue move!"
Myers' mother, Donna Myers, smiled. "They're studying butterflies in school," she said. "I had no idea this was here. I'm glad we came."
Inside Foley Hall, children and their parents gathered around microscopes focused on minuscule caterpillar eggs, cages loaded with egg-laying monarchs, and maps that trace the butterfly's spring and fall migration routes.
"I haven't gotten much work done today, but I've sure done a lot of educating," said Jennifer Pace, a Kansas City, Mo., senior genetics major who steered visitors toward the microscopes.
"The eggs themselves are clear," she explained. "The white that you see is actually the caterpillar inside. When they turn black, they're just about to hatch."
The open house was both a precursor and training session for the annual tagging day from 7:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Saturday at Baker Wetlands.
Open to the public, the event is cosponsored by Jayhawk Audubon Society.
"After last week's rain, the wetlands should be in prime shape," Taylor said, noting that in Lawrence, fall migration is expected to peak Tuesday and Wednesday.
"We're hoping a lot of people come out," he said. "We need all the taggers we can get."