Flight of the Monarch Day – Richmond Hill Monarch Butterfly Tagging Challenge

Looking for something to do with the Kids this summer? How would you like to be a citizen scientist and help save Monarch Butterflies?


With all the wonders contained in the natural world I have always thought that the Monarch Butterfly is the closest thing to a miracle that I can think of. Over 4 generations each year the Monarch Butterfly makes a migratory journey from as far away as north central Ontario to a specific region in Central Mexico.


The Monarch Butterflies, who arrive in the millions in Mexico each year, have never been there before but their species have completed this journey each year for many thousands of years. The odds against the tiny fragile insect achieving this goal are, in my estimation, huge. However while Monarch Butterfly migratory numbers wax and wane from year to year (2013 saw the numbers fall to alarming levels) they have always been able to achieve the goal of continuing the cycle.


Lately due to many factors ranging from habitat destruction and more severe winter storms in their overwintering grounds in Mexico (likely caused in part by Climate Change) , and a reduction of milkweed in all three countries, that they pass on their annual migration, the number of Monarchs completing the journey has been precariously low in the last few decades. The species is threatened and its continued existence has been called into question.


Due to efforts made across North America by concerned individuals, environmental organizations, and cities like Richmond Hill, the amount of milkweed habitat has been increased but the fate of the Monarch remains precarious and uncertain. There is more work to be done to ensure the continued survival of this iconic species.


In order to increase the odds that Monarchs will continue to thrive, scientists have been learning about the Monarch Butterfly. One of the pioneering scientists was U of T professor Fred Urquhart who did early research on Monarch butterflies in the 1970’s. He is credited for discovering the overwintering grounds in the mountains of Central Mexico in 1975. When I was a child we wrote to Dr. Urquhart to see if we could participate in his tagging program. Apparently at that time they were looking for adults to help so we did not get to participate. However a tagging program is now available that encourages everyone, kids and adults, to help out.


Participate in Councillor West’s Monarch Butterfly Tagging Challenge

Today an organization called Monarch Watch has started a citizen science based program where individuals across North America are asked to collect Monarch caterpillars and raise them to butterflies. I have ordered 100 Monarch Butterfly tags that I will be sharing with anyone who would like to participate in the challenge. My goal, and the challenge I would put to my friends and neighbours, is to collectively tag at least 100 Monarchs in Richmond Hill this August! I would invite you to participate in this challenge.


If you are unsure how to raise Monarch Butterflies I am happy to help and I have also ordered a limited supply of a book that Toronto based author Carol Pasternak has published. This book will tell you everything you every needed to know about raising and tagging Monarchs.


However the process is really quite simple.

Step 1. Contact Councillor David West to get all the details of the initiative and to let him know you would like to participate in the Monarch Tagging Challenge. He can then reserve some tags for you (the tags are not shipped from Monarch Watch until mid August so only Monarchs emerging after mid August will be tagged). His email is david.west@richmondhill.ca and his phone number is 416-346-3090.


Step 2. You find a patch of milkweed in your neighbourhood, look on the leaves for the distinctive yellow, black banded caterpillar, take the caterpillar home to a well ventilated container (an aquarium or a large jar with holes cut in the top will do) and feed it fresh milkweed every second day for a couple of weeks.


Step 3. The caterpillar will eventually make a chrysalis (which is a fascinating process to witness if you are lucky enough to see it happen). The chrysalis will remain in place for a couple of weeks while the caterpillar transforms into a butterfly During that time you just need to check on its progress. Just before the butterfly emerges the chrysalis will turn from an emerald green to black and orange (in actual fact the chrysalis turns transparent, the black and orange is the butterfly itself inside the chrysalis).


Step 4. The butterfly will then emerge shortly, hanging upside down while drying and inflating its wings. At this stage the butterfly is very fragile so it must not be disturbed until its wings are fully pumped up and it begins to exercise its wing muscles.


Step 5. At that point the butterfly can be removed from the enclosure by allowing it to crawl on an outstretched finger. A tag can then be applied by following the instructions in this link (https://monarchwatch.org/tagging/).


Step 6. Some data needs to be recorded before the butterfly is released (see section below). When all the tagging is done the challenge participants can report their data to me and I will submit it to Monarch Watch..


Monarch Watch will use data like this collected from citizens all over North America to research various aspects of the Monarch Migration by correlating tag numbers and data when Monarchs sporting a tag are spotted along the migration route or in Mexico where they overwinter. Monarch Watch will also let the person who tagged the Monarch know if and where they find their butterfly. I know of a number of reports of Monarchs that have been found. All of this science will help us ensure the Monarch Butterfly’s longer term survival so not only is it a fun activity but it’s a way to help!


Don’t forget to record the following data before tagging and releasing this butterfly.

Necessary Data

  1. Is the Butterfly a Male or Female (see https://monarchwatch.org/tagging/ )
  2. Location of Release
  3. Was it a wild butterfly that you caught, or a butterfly you raised from a caterpillar,

4.The date of release.

  1. The tag number.


If you are interested in participating in this challenge send me an email (david.west@richmondhill.ca) or call me at 416-346-3090. I can answer any questions you may have, deliver the tags and a book if you would like to receive one, and get you started. To learn more you can view the following video https://youtu.be/R2skLBiln9Y




Additional Links

https://www.richmondhill.ca/en/pollinators.aspx – Learn More about Richmond Hill’s Efforts to save Monarch Butterflies






Flight of the Monarch Day