Late summer marks the beginning of the monarch butterfly’s epic migration to wintering grounds in coastal California and central Mexico. In the western U.S., hundreds of these magnificent orange-and-black butterflies will be sporting white tags — each the width of an M&M and bearing an email address and serial number — in an effort to track the direction, route, and destination of their migratory movements. Researchers are enlisting the help of the public to spot and report these tagged migrants en route to their wintering grounds.
This monarch tagging program is the brainchild of Dr. David G. James, a professor of entomology at Washington State University. He launched the program in 2012 to focus research and conservation attention on monarchs in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and British Columbia, a region underrepresented in the monarch world.
A particular area of interest for Professor James is monarch migration biology. “There is a lack of information on the migration of the monarch in the Pacific Northwest," James said.
Efforts to better understand the migration corridors and flyways of the western monarch population are timely given a 74 percent decline in the California overwintering population in less than 20 years. Tagging information can help to effectively target conservation actions, such as milkweed plantings and development of nectar-rich corridors needed for breeding and migrating monarchs.
In collaboration with Professor James’s program, biologists and citizen scientists in Idaho captured, tagged, and released about 300 monarch butterflies this summer.
“We tagged in several locations across the state to gain insight on monarch flyways from Idaho,” said Beth Waterbury, a Salmon-based wildlife biologist for Idaho Department of Fish and Game.
Tagged monarchs from Idaho have been recovered in California, but there is also intriguing evidence of a southward trajectory towards Mexico. “We’re hoping that monarch enthusiasts in states south and west of Idaho will reward us with a few sightings,” said Waterbury.
Monarch fans anywhere along the migration route that spot a tagged monarch are requested to report their observation by email to email@example.com or they can contact Dr. James directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. When reporting, note the serial number on the tag and include a digital photo if possible.
Volunteers are welcome to join western monarch conservation efforts through Dr. James’s Monarch Butterflies of the Pacific Northwest Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/MonarchButterfliesInThePacificNorthwest/.
For more information on monarch and milkweed surveys in Idaho, contact Beth Waterbury at email@example.com or 208-940-2754