How to Tag a Migratory Monarch

In Events by Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory

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Today the story of the Monarch’s epic fall migration to Mexico is commonly told and taught in classrooms across North America. One can almost take it for granted that this is common knowledge today, but it actually wasn’t that long ago that no one knew where the Monarchs disappeared to for the winter.

Most of our native insects overwinter in a part of their life cycle that is convenient for them to go into diapause (kind of like hibernation): usually the egg or chrysalis (cocoon) stage, sometimes the larval (caterpillar stage), even occasionally the adult insect. But the Monarch does not overwinter in any stage. Up until only 40 years ago, no one knew where the Monarch went.

Thanks to the inquisitive mind and tireless efforts of Dr. Urqhart and his wife, they discovered the Monarch’s secret by placing tags on the wings of the butterflies. It started out as a small piece of paper with a simple code. People were asked to watch for these tagged monarchs and report where and when they saw them. Over years of doing this research, eventually a tagged monarch was found in the Sierra Madre mountain range 10,000 feet above sea level in the oyamel fir forests of Mexico.

Today people still tag monarchs, and it’s not just done by professional scientists. Anyone can participate by purchasing tags and filling out the data sheet from the research group ” MonarchWatch and tagging butterflies in their own yards. This citizen science research is still one of the main ways we’re learning about Monarch migration pathways and factors affecting their population levels. It’s a fun, educational, meaningful way to learn more about the wondrous animal that is the Monarch as well as contributing to valuable scientific research.

Join us for Monarch Tagging Weekend September 10th and 11th!

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