Just when I thought Monarch rescue was winding down for the season in my neighborhood, it suddenly cranked into overdrive yesterday: Three pupas eclosed into Monarch Butterflies. I tagged and then released them at about noon. That left me with two pupas. I didn’t even have time for the empty nest syndrome to set in.
At about 2PM I got a call from my friend Margie to come over because she had found three Monarch caterpillars on some milkweed she was getting ready to cut back. I cleaned the laundry baskets from the previous inhabitants and went over to Margie’s to pick up the three new charges. As I was collecting them, Margie found two more for a total of five. Then we went across the street to my house to get some more milkweed from my garden and what do you think? While we were gathering milkweed for the hungry caterpillars at my house, we found five more. Now I have ten caterpillars and two pupas—12 more potential Monarch butterflies.
Putting Labels on Monarchs
Thus far this year Charlie and I have rescued and released 20 Monarch butterflies. However, we’ve only tagged nine of them. Tagging them is a delicate process that involves holding both their wings together and affixing a tiny label to the discal cell of the creature’s hind wing. We got the labels from a friend who didn’t have time this year to participate.
The labels come from Monarch Watch, a nonprofit education, conservation and research program based at the University of Kansas that focuses on the monarch butterfly, its habitat and its fall migration.
Each tiny, all-weather, adhesive-backed tag is imprinted with Monarch Watch’s phone number, email address, and a unique identifying number. If you find a tagged Monarch—dead or alive, please use that contact information and call Monarch Watch.
Each label has a unique alphanumeric code (three letters and three digits). I’ve decided to add my grandchildren and Charlie’s grandchildren’s names to the codes of the Monarchs that we release. (You won’t see them on the actual label as there is no room. Grandchildren and monarchs have a lot in common. They are tough, fragile, lovely, innately intelligent and determined.)
All our butterflies are “R” indicating that we reared them. Some folks capture and label wild Monarchs. Thus far we have affixed these identifiers:
WGW300 – FRANK (M) – (R) Labeled and released 10/27/16
WGW301 – MEGAN (F) – (R) Labeled and released 10/29/16
WGW302 – MADISON (F) – (R) Labeled and released 10/29/16
WGW303 – JACK (M) – (R) Labeled and released 10/29/16
WGW304 – ZOE (F) – (R) Labeled and released 10/30/16
WGW305 – ARIEL (F) – (R) Labeled and released 11/14/16
WGW306 – BRAYDIN (M) (R) Labeled and released 11/17/16
WGW307 – SADIE (F) (R) Labeled and released 11/17/16
WGW308 – ERIN (F) (R) Labeled and released 11/17/16
WBW309 – BRETT (waiting for the next Monarch to eclose)
I have a contact tagging datasheet and each time I tag a Monarch, I record the code, the date tagged, the sex, and “R” to indicate reared as opposed to W for Wild, and the place and zip code where released (Garland, Texas 75040)
I send this data to the University of Kansas at Lawrence Kansas.
How Data Is Retrieved
The majority of the recovered tags are obtained in Mexico. Each year members of the Monarch Watch team visit the overwintering sites (El Rosario and Sierra Chincua) where they purchase tags from guides and ejido members. Since the ratio of untagged to tagged monarchs is quite high, it takes most residents several hours to find each tag among the butterflies. They pay $5 for each tag.
The recovery data is posted on the Monarch Watch recovery site and is analyzed to test hypotheses concerning monarch orientation and navigation. The data are also used to determine mortality during the migration and estimate the number of monarchs in the overwintering population.
2016 Is Not Predicted to be a Good Year for Monarchs
All the data to this point in time suggest this year will be a repeat of 2014 with a significant decline in the migration and overwintering numbers. The problem this year seems to be the low numbers of first generation monarchs moving north in May and early June. These numbers are quite similar to those reported in 2014.