Rafting the Green River

My favorite summer experience was joining the 4th Annual Monarch Migration Float. We conducted monarch surveys along the Green River that bisects Dinosaur National Monument. It is commonly believed that monarch butterflies use rivers as travel corridors for their journey to their overwintering sites. These riparian habitats contain abundant milkweed and nectar-rich plants that are essential for the well-being of monarch butterflies. This multiday rafting project was my first time rafting and camping along the banks of a river!

Our research expedition started with the Uinta Mountain Formation at the Gates of Lodore. To explain, we had two rafts on each side of the river with two crew mates and a boat operator. If we observed a large patch of milkweed, we would ask the boat operator to park us near the host plants. Once we were off of the rafts, we opportunistically searched for eggs, caterpillars, and adult monarch butterflies.

On our second day, my supervisors, Emily and Sonya, witnessed a monarch butterfly emerge from its chrysalis! They acted quickly and gently to capture the monarch by hand. A couple of hours later, my rafting crewmate, Victor Garcia-Balderas, caught another monarch butterfly while we were searching for eggs and caterpillars on a sandbar.

On our third day near the confluence of the Yampa and Green Rivers, we stopped at the sunflower and rabbit brush fields of Echo Park. While searching for milkweed, I noticed an orange flying object jumping from sunflower to sunflower. It was a monarch! I immediately grabbed the insect net and chased the butterfly. It landed peacefully on a sunflower which allowed me enough time to get close to it and catch it! While walking back to our rafts, a volunteer boat operator, Stewart Breck, netted a monarch resting on rabbitbrush!

Hopefully, these four tagged adult monarch butterflies can make it to their destination, and someone re-sights them along the way. Our rafting journey lasted for four days and ended at the boat ramp of Split Canyon. In total, we recorded 6 eggs, 23 caterpillars, and 3 empty chrysalises. A successful research expedition! My favorite experiences were rafting through the gnarly whitewater features and learning how to row! The Green River became a good friend of mine.

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