A Morning with Monarchs
Hopefully, you remember Katie Banks Hone, the homeowner from Massachusetts that gave us a tutorial on how to grow monarchs! She’s back this year shedding more insight about her successful monarch tagging program.
On a sunny, yet blustery, late September morning fifteen children and their families gathered at the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge in Newburyport, Mass. to see monarch butterflies, learn about their migration, and send them on their way to their wintering grounds in the mountains of Mexico. Before we let the wind carry them away, they were all affixed with a tiny ID sticker. If these butterflies are found anywhere along their migration, or in their winter forests of Mexico, the information can be reported to Monarch Watch and traced back to being tagged at the refuge. This gives researchers information on individual monarchs and helps further our knowledge of these unique insects.
Tagging monarchs is very easy. The sticker is simply stuck to the oval pattern on one of the lower wings. When I started tagging for the first time last summer even my four-year-old could do it. Many people ask if it affects the insect’s ability to fly and the answer is no. It’s similar to you putting on one sock.
After the children and I put tags on the monarchs we brought them out to the refuge’s native gardens and let them go one by one in the goldenrods and other fall nectar plants. A few of them took a sip of nectar then immediately took off, headed in a southerly direction. But others stuck around and even landed on the children making for some very nice photo opportunities for the families participating.
Of all the facts participants learned about monarchs that day what amazed them the most was how a tiny insect, weighing less than a paper clip, can make its way 3,000 miles to Mexico having never been there before. How they do it still remains mostly a mystery to us. But these children and their families are hoping our five make it and then return to Texas next spring to mate and start the cycle all over again.
By planting native milkweeds, the only food monarch caterpillars can eat, you can help sustain this declining species. By planting native nectar plants you can also help sustain the monarchs fall migration and support other pollinators too.
How well do you know the monarch butterfly? Take this quiz to find out!