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Tagging Monarch Butterflies

The Monarch is an unusual butterfly by almost any measure. Imagine, if you can, an entire generation of butterflies that undertake a journey en masse covering up to 4,500 km (2800 miles) or more, to a place they’ve never been, in a last-ditch effort to avoid the travails of winter.

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Imagine also a generation that, on the whole, lives five to seven times longer than the generation that preceded it and waits all of that time to fulfill its one and only purpose, to reproduce, only to barely begin the journey back to where they came from before the vast majority of them die.

During spring and summer, monarchs breed throughout the U.S. and southern Canada. In the fall, adults of the eastern population migrate to Mexico.

The following spring, these butterflies leave their overwintering sites and fly northward in search of host plants on which to lay their eggs. Female monarchs lay eggs on milkweeds and a few other plants in the dogbane family.

As monarchs spread across North America, several generations of butterflies are produced. Milkweeds provide a food source for monarch larvae, the showy flowers of milkweeds offer abundant, high quality nectar to many pollinators including bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.

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The handsome plants can also add interest and beauty to any landscape. The North American Monarch Conservation Plan recommends planting native milkweed species to help restore breeding habitat. Sites of any size or location can help, from urban parks, schools and home gardens to commercial developments, municipalities and rural roadsides. 1.5 million Monarchs have been tagged in the last 26 years from the front range in Colorado to the Maritime Provinces in Canada.

Further, Monarchs have been tagged from the beginning of the migration in the vicinity of Winnipeg in early August until the last Monarchs cross the border into Mexico in November.

This year I had the good fortune of finding a clump of Swamp Milkweed close to our home with over 20 Monarch caterpillars on it. Having heard about the tagging program offered through, I made contact with an avid tagger from Toronto who works with both wild and reared Monarchs, and he told me who to contact and informed me no one, that he knew of, had ever tagged in our area, partially because of the low Monarch numbers most years in Northwestern Ontario.

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I ordered my tags and records paperwork, put flagging tape near all the chrysalises I could find, which turned out to be 17, and waited for the magic of a caterpillar transforming into a butterfly to happen. From August 13 to August 16 I was able to carefully tag 10 Monarchs total, 4 males and 6 females.

As of this writing, I have one chrysalis left to emerge.

The odds of someone finding one of our NWO tagged Monarchs, either along the route or in their wintering roosts in Mexico, are very slim, but I will be notified if an individual is found and the migration information will be added to the records providing new insights about the dynamics of the amazing Monarch migration.

 Submitted by Ellen Riggins

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