tagging monarchs to track them

on a recent cold and rainy saturday morning, i participated in a a few events for a green apple day of service at lipscomb elementary school.  actually, i was there with my husband so that i could help him give a demonstration on square food gardening.  when he isn’t busy at the university-he is the catering chef, he works with the kindergarten classes in their garden beds.  he has been working with one of the teacher for the last two years and the program has been very successful.
the teacher he works with is also heavily involved with monarch watch.  give becky five minutes and she will tell you all she can about monarchs.  she even manages to work them into every lesson plan she has for her students.  along side of the driveway just outside her classroom is long and narrow garden full butterfly plants.  some are host plants for the caterpillars, like the milkweed for instance, while others, such as coneflowers, herbs and asters are valuable nectar plants for the butterflies.
monarchs like many other creatures are very sensitive to changes within their environment.  the large amount of construction in many areas has meant a drastic reduction in host plants for monarchs and sadly, their numbers are declining quickly.  i can remember seeing so many fluttering about during the summer when i was young but now, i can hardly remember seeing one this summer.  but construction isn’t the only problem that monarchs are facing.  herbicides and genetically modified crops also have a hand in their decline and the bring back the monarch campaign is hoping to prevent further decline.  you can help by planting any of the 15 native(to tennessee) milkweed plants in your yard or garden.  for a complete list of the varieties native to tennessee, follow this link and to find sources for seeds and plants, check this list.
becky watches the plants closely with hope of finding caterpillars or a chrysalis.  when she finds them, she carefully moves them to a secure environment in the building so that she can be sure they will have the chance to become butterflies.   

on this day, one monarch decided to join the festivities by coming out of the chrysalis shell.  it was a complete surprise to everyone-especially the children in attendance.  while the wings unfurl and dry, butterflies are extremely vulnerable to predators.  this one was lucky that miss becky took it inside-the cool temperatures would have made it even harder for it to fly away.

sorry for the blurry shot-plastic containers are not the best thing to take photos through.

one of the things becky does is to tag each butterfly before setting it free.  she keeps careful records of each and every one so that it can be tracked.  she explained that all of the monarchs in this part of the country will actually fly to a small santuary in mexico for the winter.

the tag is placed on the wing and each one has a number specific to that butterfly.  the native people who live in and around the santuary will actually comb the ground looking for tags.  for some, that is a large part of their income and they take the task seriously.

becky will tell you that every so often, they get an email listing a number from one of the tags that she and the children have used.  that means one of the butterflies made it to mexico and for this group, it is news to dance and shout about.

it takes a minute or two for the butterfly to become accustomed to the tag on its wing but once they are, they can fly just fine.

did you know that it is very easy to determine the sex of a monarch butterfly?  well, it really is, by gently splaying the wings open, a five year old was quick to tell me that this was a male.  how did he know that?  by the single large black spot on each of the wings.  this guy went back into the aquarium until it warmed up and then they were going to let him fly off.  and with any luck, he will make it to the santuary in mexico.

One thought on “tagging monarchs to track them

  1. Cool post! It was very informative. I love learning the details of all different kinds of animals. I had plans to plant my backyard with butterfly friendly plants once (in OH), but never followed thru. We live in Kentucky now and we love feeding the hummingbirds each summer and wish them a safe journey when they leave in the fall. I always wonder where exactly they go. It seems even more miraculous that a fragile butterfly can make it all the way to Mexico safely. Wow!


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