What a gorgeous day to go tagging! We went on an impromptu expedition around the island to catch and tag Monarch butterflies.
The Monarch Butterflies have been visiting the island by the thousands for the last few weeks, they are just beginning their migration to Mexico. Overall, it takes them roughly 85 days to make it all the way to the Oyamel Fir forests in the Sierra Madre Mountains of Michoacan, Mexico. The flight pathways are still being studied to figure out where the Monarchs that go to Mexico originate from as well as which generation they are from.
Monarch Watch has a tagging program that gets everyday citizens involved, from 2nd grade classes to butterfly enthusiasts, anyone can order the tags from https://shop.monarchwatch.org/Monarch-Watch-Tagging-Kit/121239 and spend the fall catching and tagging Monarchs in order to help scientists understand their flight trajectory.
How does it work?
We channel our inner child and use butterfly nets to catch Monarchs. The handling of the butterfly is a bit tricky, but once you get the hang of it, it’s piece of cake. Once the hard part is over, and you’ve officially wrangled your butterfly, you want to bunch the net closed to keep the butterfly from getting away. You then slide your hand through the bit of net you’re holding, keeping the net cinched around your wrist as you are sliding it in. Now, your hand is in the enclosed net with your Monarch. The goal, is to use two fingers, and hold the monarch with it’s wings closed, below the upper part of the wing and just above the body. This area is where the veins are the thickest and they are slightly raised. Holding them in this area, minimal, if any scales are removed by touching.
Now that the butterfly is in hand, it’s time to tag. Using the stickers provided by Monarch Watch, you place them on the lower part of the wing in between the two thickets cells (as pictured).
Once your Monarch is tagged, you document the code on the tag, the sex of the butterfly, and if the butterfly was wild caught or raised in captivity. To sex a Monarch, you check the bottom wings when opened. The male will have two black dots in the vein pattern in the lower wings, whereas the female will not. After recording all of your data, you can release your butterfly and watch him/her make it’s way to a new nectar source.
Here are some fun pictures from our tagging excursions, it was a blast! We caught and tagged 56 Monarchs. Fingers crossed that we hear back and some of our little guys made it to Mexico.