Dear Council West Monarch Tagging Challenge Participants,
August 22nd has been declared Flight of the Monarch Day in Richmond Hill. To celebrate the annual migration of the Monarch Butterfly from Richmond Hill to Mexico I have put forth a Challenge for Richmond Hill residents to raise and tag and release 100 Monarch Butterflies. I would love to have you join our Tagging Team and below is information on how you can participate and help. To sign up simply send me an email to [email protected] or call me at 416-346-3090.
Participants will be committing to having fun, doing some citizen science but most of all you will be helping the Monarch and Richmond Hill’s effort to save this iconic species. The collective goal of this Challenge is to tag and release 100 Richmond Hill Monarchs on behalf of Monarch Watch, in order to help researchers study Monarch migration patterns and ultimately help ensure the long-term survival of the Monarch Butterfly.
So you may be asking – what do I need to do to get started.
Steps to Take in the Tagging Challenge
- In order to support Tagging Challenge participants I will be delivering a book by local Monarch expert Carol Pasternak to all participants. This book is written for kids and it tells everything you need to know about raising Monarchs (even if you are not a kid it is a good resource). There is also lots of good information available about Monarchs and how to raise them on the Internet. A list of good links to resources can be found at the end of this email.
- While you are collecting caterpillars and raising them to butterflies it would be great if you could take some photos and share them with me. I would like to be able to use these photos to promote the Tagging Challenge to others. I have also asked the local newspaper Snapd to promote the event and they would love to include some of these photos in their August edition of the paper. Any thoughts on your Tagging Challenge experience that you would like to share is also most welcome and encouraged. Anything you would like to share can be sent to me at [email protected]
- You can start collecting Monarch caterpillars any time. The process is really quite simple. First find a naturalized area where there is milkweed. Generally a naturalized sunny place beside a road or trail is a good place to look for these black, yellow, and white banded caterpillars. Milkweed is a distinctive looking plant so when you find it you can’t miss it. The caterpillars are often found on the underside of the leaves and typically toward the top part of the milkweed plant. When newly hatched from an egg, caterpillars can be quite small so look carefully. The following link has some good photos and tips for finding Milkweed https://cwffcf.org/en/resources/encyclopedias/flora/milkweed.html. There are many types of Milkweed in Ontario but the most common type of Milkweed growing wild in Richmond Hill is Common Milkweed
- Remember that the Monarch Butterflies that Monarch Watch wants us to tag are the ones that emerge from their chrysalis after early to mid August in Canada. It is this generation of Monarchs that will make the migration to Mexico and it is these ones that the scientists at Monarch Watch are interested in tracking and studying. If you have a Monarch Butterfly that emerges before the tags are delivered don’t worry – just release it and consider it a dry run.
- I would suggest that you collect caterpillars on a few different occasions over the period between the end of July to the end of August to ensure that you have enough caterpillars that will emerge as Butterflies after the tags arrive and enough so that you can tag at least a few butterflies.
- Once you collect the caterpillars you will need a large jar or container that you can cut ventilation holes in the top or attach a screen or mesh to. It is important that the caterpillars have fresh air to breathe. You can buy Butterfly cages from a store if you wish, but a jar or aquarium also works well. If you are going to use an aquarium I suggest finding a piece of cardboard that you can lay over the top sealing the lid so they don’t escape but leave a small spaces for airflow that can be covered by a mesh or cloth. There needs to be a rigid space at the top of the enclosure to allow for a good place for the caterpillar to make a chrysalis (more on this below in step 8)
- Caterpillars need milkweed to eat so you will need to supply fresh milkweed leaves every couple of days for them to eat.
- Depending how large the caterpillar is when you collect it, they will remain as caterpillars for a period of time before they will make their way to the top of the enclosure to make a chrysalis. During this time the caterpillar will attach its back end to the top of the top of the enclosure and make a “J” shape while it sheds its skin and becomes an emerald green chrysalis. It is important that the lid of the enclosure allows space for this to happen without disturbing the caterpillar and that the lid is ridged enough for this process to happen.
- Once the caterpillar makes a chrysalis check on it every day. After about 2 weeks the chrysalis will turn black. This is sign that the Butterfly will emerge very shortly.
- When the butterfly emerges its wings are quite shriveled up. At this point you will need to let it pump up and dry its wings before disturbing it. At this stage the butterfly is very fragile. Once the wings are pumped up the tag can be attached to the lower outside part of the wing. A good video explaining how this is done can be found here https://monarchwatch.org/tagging/
- At some point after attaching the tag I would suggest putting the butterfly in a sheltered spot outside where it can fly away once it is ready. Be sure to wave good bye and say Adios (Spanish for good bye) so it can learn to speak Spanish to its friends while in Mexico – I am not a scientist and I can’t vouch for the science regarding speaking Spanish to migrating Canadian Monarchs but I assume it won’t hurt).
- At this point you have been successful in raising and tagging a Monarch Butterfly! Congratulations and thank you!
We are going to need to enlist as many people as possible to meet our goal of tagging 100 Monarchs so if you know anyone who is interested in helping please let them know to contact me and I will sign them up. If you have any questions during the process please always feel free to email me at [email protected] or call me at 416-346-3090. I am happy to help and hear of your experience!
Additional Links to Learn More
About Richmond Hill’s Efforts to save Monarch Butterflies
About Monarchs, How you can Help, and How to Raise Monarchs
Richmond Hill Ward 4 Councillor