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Ontario researchers want help tracking Monarch butterflies

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As monarch butterfly populations continue to decline in North America, one organization is hoping something as simple as a sticker will help better understand the migrating insects.

Since 1992, Monarch Watch has been tagging the butterflies with small labels to determine migration routes, the influence of weather on these routes, survival rates, and how far a butterfly travels each day. Each tag, which is simply an all-weather polypropylene sticker around the size of a hole punch, is marked with a unique tag code and Monarch Watch’s contact information.

The tag itself is placed on the discal cell, a large, mitten-shaped cell on the underside of the hindwing. The sticker only accounts for 2 percent of the butterflies weight, so it will not impede flight.

Quick and elusive, catching Monarch butterflies can be tricky. Monarch Watch recommends purchasing a good butterfly net and pinpointing areas where the butterflies are feeding on flowers. Monarchs raised in captivity from caterpillars are also a source for tagging—and much easier to catch!

Here in Canada, one group that is helping with this tagging process is Rare Charitable Nature Reserve in Cambridge, Ont. In an interview with the CBC, Jenna Quinn, a program scientist with the organization, says that if you are successful in catching a butterfly, it’s key to have a light touch.

“Butterflies are delicate, you do have to be careful when you’re handling them. Their wings are covered with tiny scales that to us just kind of looks like a powder,” Quinn said.

Quinn notes that while tagging is crucial, it’s equally important that you report back to Monarch Watch if you find a butterfly with a sticker. Monarch Watch’s website states that  “most of the recovered tagged monarchs within the United States and Canada are found dead by people who know nothing about Monarchs or Monarch Watch.”

If you’re interested in helping out the tagging effort, contact Rare Charitable Nature Reserve or Monarch Watch. For the best results, tagging should take from late September to early October, right before the winter migration.