HASH“TAG” SAVING MONARCHS: CONSERVATIONISTS CONTRIBUTE TO COMMUNITY SCIENTIST TAGGING PROGRAM
As we head into fall, cooler weather brings not only relief from the heat but also the return of the eastern migratory monarch butterfly. Every spring and fall, monarch butterflies pass through Oklahoma as they undergo a multi-generational migration. During the fall migration, monarchs head towards Mexico to roost in oyamel fir forests until spring. Monarch butterflies have one of the longest and most unique animal migrations in the world and many questions remain unanswered about the process. To help answer these questions, monarchs are given unique identifier tags by research scientists and community scientists every year. While monarch tagging has been occurring since the 1970s, community scientist tagging began in 1992 through Monarch Watch, a program out of the University of Kansas. Monarch Watch provides participants with monarch tags and data sheets.
To tag monarchs, butterflies are carefully caught in nets. A monarch is removed from the net, examined to determine if the butterfly is male or female, and then has a monarch tag (a small butterfly-safe sticker with a unique identifier number) placed on a hindwing. The tag is designed to not interfere with monarch flight or otherwise harm the butterfly. Before any monarchs are released, dates, locations, sexes, and tag numbers are written on data sheets so that information can be entered into a database later. In spring, locals near monarch sanctuaries in Mexico will search for monarchs with tags. If a monarch with a tag is recovered it is entered into the database, allowing taggers the chance to see if any monarchs they tagged were recovered in Mexico. Oklahoma City Zoo has participated in Monarch Watch’s tagging program for over 20 years and has had many successful monarch tag recoveries in Mexico. Recently, a monarch tagged with the number ACJW910 found nectaring in the flowers at the entrance to the Zoo in fall of 2020 was recovered in Mexico in spring of 2021.
As a community scientist program, anyone can participate in monarch tagging or monarch tagging events. Monarch tags are available for purchase through Monarch Watch. Or those interested in participating can attend monarch tagging events, including those at the Oklahoma City Zoo.
Join the OKC Zoo and Bob Moore Subaru for a special Monarch Awareness Day on Saturday, September 10, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. to learn what the Zoo is doing to help these iconic pollinators and how you can help. Now more than ever, we need to take action to ensure monarch butterflies and all pollinators thrive. Event goers of all ages will enjoy a variety of activities including learning how to plant a pollinator garden, participating in Monarch Watch’s community science monarch tagging project, assisting with planting a pollinator garden in the Zoo, free milkweed plants and pollinator seed packs while supplies last, story time, Facebook Lives and more. The festival also features a plant sale offering a variety of native pollinator plants available for purchase from Oklahoma nurseries. Discover the plant sale happening in the Zoo’s Entry Plaza from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., admission is not required for this activity. Plus, Zoo guests will enjoy free entry to BRICKLIVE Animal Paradise on Saturday, September 10. Monarch Awareness Day activities will be happening around the Zoo’s pollinator garden and carousel, and all are free regular admission. Learn more at www.okczoo.org.
- Dr. Emily Geest, Postdoctoral Fellow in Conservation & Science