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An Amazing Journey

Q. What is orange and black, weighs 0.75 grams (a dime is 2.3 grams), and can fly 1,700 miles? A. A Monarch Butterfly! During the middle of August through September, Milwaukeeans can witness the spectacular monarch migration. If it has been a productive summer and the weather is just right, it is possible to see thousands of monarchs migrating right along the lakefront bluffs. In the evenings, these nomads often congregate in one or two trees in such numbers that their combined weight bends the tree branches. During this migration, many butterflies move along the Milwaukee River corridor, stopping to nectar in our gardens and planted prairies. Last fall, we had citizen scientists of all ages (and heights) participate in a unique program: tagging monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus). The Urban Ecology Center became a member of the Monarch Watch program through the University of Kansas’ entomology program. This program is a cooperative network of students, teachers, volunteers and researchers dedicated to the study of the monarch butterfly. Goals of the program include to further science education in elementary/secondary schools, to promote the conservation of monarch butterflies, and to involve students and adults in a cooperative study of the monarch’s fall migration. During the late summer and early fall, families and students can participate in the Center’s Citizen Science Program by helping catch and tag migrating monarch butterflies. Fifty monarchs from last fall sported a Monarch Watch tag on their trip to Mexico. Researchers hope that either along the migration route or at the winter roost in Mexico one of these butterflies will be captured again or the tag will be recovered. The tag is very small and is carefully placed in the center of the hind wing (see picture). On the tag is the address of the project and an individual identification number. That way, when a butterfly is recaptured its flight path can be tracked. Of the 50 monarchs that we tagged last September, one of them was recovered this winter. AGI363 was recovered in El Rosario, Mexico by Herman Medina. That butterfly traveled 1,768 miles. Truly an amazing journey! If you would like to help out, contact the Center to find out how you can participate in this hands-on research project.We will be offering a program for the public in September plus we will train interested volunteers on how to properly capture, tag, and release monarchs. If you want to learn more about monarch migration you can visit the Monarch Watch website: www.monarchwatch.org Contact the Urban Ecology Center at 964-8505
August 2002