Tagging Monarchs with the Public at Dinosaur National Monument

On August 10, I helped with the Monarch Butterfly Habitat Hike and Tagging Workshop at Josie’s Cabin in Dinosaur National Monument. This event was intended to teach participants about monarch ecology and conservation, show people how we do monarch research, and gather lots of data.

With the help of a group of 5 netters, 2 park interpreters, and many volunteers, we successfully caught and tagged 26 monarchs over the course of about 3 hours. This included 16 male and 10 females who ranged from poor condition – older individuals with torn wings and faded coloration – to monarchs of excellent condition. One butterfly catcher even netted a pair of mating butterflies (pictured), who stayed together for over an hour and persevered through the netting, placement in our holding hamper, tagging, and release. We also recaptured 3 of the monarchs we had tagged earlier in the day and even recaptured one monarch that we caught in the same area back on July 24. Its wings had become tattered in the 2 weeks since the first time it was captured and we found it interesting that it had stayed in the same area for so long. After the program, I sent all the data to the Southwest Monarch Study, which had provided us with our monarch tags.

We had a nice turnout of visitors at the program, despite the early start time of 8:00 am on a Saturday morning. Interpreters answered questions and guided visitors through fun monarch activities. They also took visitors on a habitat hike to show all the elements of monarch habitat, including tall trees for roosting, milkweed for laying eggs, flowers for feeding on nectar, and water. During the tagging workshop part of the program, visitors helped in a variety of ways. They recorded notes on our data sheets, placed tags on butterflies, identified monarchs’ sex and condition, and searched for monarch eggs and larvae. Young kids and adults alike enjoyed letting the monarchs stand on their arms before flying away after being tagged. Some people even offered to join me in the future to do more tagging. This will be hugely beneficial to me because it is helpful to have multiple sets of hands when we need to catch, handle, and tag the butterflies all while taking notes and photos.

I appreciated that many of the visitors – who ages ranged from babies to grandparents – asked questions about monarchs and wondered what they could do to contribute to the research. People wanted to know where monarchs migrate, how long they live, and more. They also wanted to know where they could go to find out how to become monarch citizen scientists themselves.

We ended the program by taking a group photo with a new plaque from Monarch Watch designating the Josie’s Cabin area as a monarch monitoring waystation. Kids at the program slipped on monarch finger puppets and cape-like wings and held out nets to pose for the cute photo. I hope that for the young visitors, they will remember this experience and how excited they were to be a part of monarch research. I was especially excited about a little girl with no front teeth who spotted a caterpillar on her own and helped identify it as a third instar larvae. When I said she could be a future scientist, she said she actually wants to be a naturalist. Pretty cool, I thought. Overall, this experience reminded me that National Parks and programs like this one can be not only educational but also very inspirational and memorable for visitors.

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