Monday, October 17, 2011

A Monarch with a Sticker

Every fall millions of monarch butterflies leave their residence in the US and Canada and migrate to California and Mexico to spend the winter.   This past week I have spotted quite a few monarchs here in North Carolina as they feed on nectar plants in order to store energy for the long flight.

 
I have seen several monarchs in the Red House gardens, and there have even been monarchs fluttering around people at the plant stores.  


My kids were quite surprised and delighted the other day when we were at a big home and garden store and a monarch landed on a plant right next to us!  I was even more surprised when I saw that the butterfly had a sticker on its hind wing.  It was a round sticker, and it looked a lot like the little stickers that they put on fruit.   

I was saddened.  I assumed that the poor monarch must have somehow gotten a sticker on him at the store.  However, the more I thought about it, the more suspicious I became.  How exactly had the monarch gotten a sticker in the middle of his hind wing like that?  I did some research and found...

It was a monarch tag!

sample monarch tag
According to the Monarch Watch website, much is still unknown about the migration of monarchs, and monarch tagging can help.  Starting in August, volunteers in the US and Canada catch monarchs, carefully place a tag on the underside of the hind wing, and release them. 

You can volunteer to catch and tag monarchs for research purposes at Monarch Watch.
 Researchers hope that the information produced through tagging will solve unanswered questions about their migration.  According to the Monarch Butterfly NZ Trust, most of the tags recovered are from Mexico, where Monarch Watch personnel visit the overwintering sites of monarchs and pay local people for each tag that they discover.  Others are recovered by people who do not know anything about this program but find a deceased butterfly with the tag and contact the Monarch Watch.

So if you see a sticker on a Monarch butterfly, don't be sad like I was.  Instead, see if you can spot the tag code on it, and e-mail that code and its location to tag@ku.edu.  You could be helping the scientific community unravel mysteries about these beautiful butterflies!



Some Interesting Facts about Monarchs:

Monarchs can fly over 3,000 miles during their migration.

-  During the summer, monarch butterflies usually live for only 2 - 6 weeks.  Migrating monarchs, however, go into a non-reproductive, hibernating phase for the winter which allows them to live up to 7 months or even more. 

-  In spring, the monarchs come out of hibernation, mate, fly north in order to lay their eggs, and then die.  Those eggs hatch, and the resulting monarchs keep migrating north, lay their eggs, and then die.   This continues for several generations.  It is the original monarchs' great-great-grandchildren that will start the cycle all over again by migrating south back to the same winter nesting locations!

- Monarchs who live west of the Rocky Mountains will overwinter in pine and eucalyptus trees in and near Pacific Grove and Santa Cruz, California.  Monarchs who live east of the Rockies overwinter in oyamil fir trees at several locations in Mexico.

- Monarchs who live in Bermuda and Hawaii do not migrate, as their climates are mild enough to stay year-round.  Australian monarchs may make short migrations to warmer areas for the winter.

- A monarch antennae contains what is essentially a circadian clock and a compass.

- Unfortunately, the monarch butterfly population has suffered a large decline in recent years due to urbanization, illegal deforestation of their winter nesting sites, and several severe winters that have decimated much of the population at Mexican overwintering sites.

You can help the monarch population by planting Butterfly Weed, which they lay their eggs on.

5 comments:

  1. Wow, you'd have to be careful to place a sticker on a butterfly without harming it! I wish we had Monarchs here.

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  2. How fun that you have actually seen one of these tags. I have read about the program. but you provided a lot of interesting information.

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  3. It would be so exciting to see a monarch with a tag. But I wonder what the butterfly thinks about it!

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  4. It was fun to see it and realize what it was. They have instructions on the Monarch Watch website on how to put the sticker on, and they say that even children can do it, so it must be easier than I'm thinking. I would worry about hurting the monarch while putting it on!

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