Tagging’s No Crime when its Monarch Butterflies

Orange and black means keep back Jack!

In November I tagged butterflies at Desert Botanical Gardens with a group of volunteers ranging in age from seven to seventy. Docents showed us how the sex and general condition of “our” monarch was recorded along with the ID number from the blueberry sized tag we pressed on the underside of the wing. Anyone finding the butterfly can notify SW Monarch Study using an email address on the tag.
Did you know?
*Monarchs are the only migratory butterfly.
*In the fall, sugar from nectar is stored in the abdomen for sustenance for migration.
*Shorter days signal the butterfly to fly to warmer climates.
*In the tradition of all great quests monarchs pick up others along the way, until huge clouds of butterflies may be seen.
*When they reach their overwinter location they cluster together on trees for shelter, where a single tree may hold one hundred thousand individuals.
*In the spring, the monarchs mate and begin the journey north.
*Along the way they must find milkweed plants on which to lay their eggs as monarch caterpillars only eat milkweed.
*Milkweed contains cardiac glycosides which make the butterflies toxic to predators.
Monarchs from the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains migrate to Mexico for overwintering, and western butterflies migrate to Southern California. But no one is quite sure where the monarchs from the Southwest go – which is why the Southwest Monarch Study and their volunteers tag butterflies. Project Coordinator Chris Klein oversees tagging in Arizona from August through November. A handful of his dedicated volunteers travel to tagging locations to capture, tag and release butterflies. What a great way to spend some time!
Klein estimates that SWMS has tagged about 8500 monarchs since their inception in 2003, and says they have made some surprising discoveries. Monarchs from Arizona sometimes winter in the area, some have been found in Mexico, and some in California. In fact, from a single tagging near Canelo, Arizona one monarch was found in California and one in Mexico – calling into question the basic theory that monarchs use a single navigational tool.
Klein’s organization encourages the planting of milkweed as the most useful thing we can do to support the monarch population. Chris also urges folks to check out the website at swmonarchs.org to track tagged monarchs on their journey. The organization is also on Facebook posting daily updates on monarch discoveries.

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