Summer is coming to a close, and that means that the Monarch butterflies are beginning their 5000 km journey south to overwinter in Mexico. Most adult Monarch butterflies that you see in the summer only live 2-5 weeks, but the migratory generation (those that emerge from their chrysalides in late August and early September) lives an exceptional 6-8 months.
A Brief History of Monarch Tagging
We didn’t always know where the Monarchs went in the winter. Tracking the Monarch’s migration began with the work of Dr. Fred Urquhart, whose career-long research led to the discovery in 1975 of millions of Monarch butterflies clustered in the Oyamel Fir trees in the mountains in central Mexico. Since then, over 13 overwintering sites have been found spread over five different mountain sites. These locations are now ecological preserves protected by the government of Mexico.
Scientists, both professional and citizen alike, have now been tagging migratory Monarchs for over 40 years. The information gained from tracking their migration helps us understand where the butterflies are coming from, how far they are travelling, and what routes they are taking. This is essential information that aides in conservation efforts across the Monarch’s entire migratory path.
Species at Risk
Due largely to habitat loss, the Monarch population has experienced a huge decrease in the last 15-20 years. The Monarch is currently listed as a species of Special Concern on the Species at Risk (SAR) list, but it has been recommended by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) to be listed as endangered federally.
How you can be involved
One of the best things we can do to help the Monarchs is to participate in citizen science projects like the Monarch Tagging program through Monarch Watch. Every September we host Monarch Tagging Weekend, a 2-day event dedicated to educational activities, presentations, and of course the release of tagged butterflies! Guests have the opportunity to be involved in the citizen science research by sponsoring a migratory Monarch. Tagging demonstrations are ongoing throughout the day.
Watch the video below for more information on how to tag a migratory Monarch.