Project aims to help save monarch butterfly

Researchers want to know where monarch butterflies are mating and are asking Albertans for help in the hunt.

'Citizen scientists' hunt for milkweed in hopes of better understanding the species

A female monarch butterfly rests on a flower. Researchers want to better understand the breeding grounds of the species in order to help protect it. (John Dunham/Messenger-Inquirer/Associated Press)

Researchers want to know where monarch butterflies are mating and are asking Albertans for help in the hunt.

Paul Galpern with the University of Calgary said it will be key in helping to identify where the butterflies breed in western Canada.

"I think what's interesting here, out in Alberta, is that we need to answer that question," he said.

"And the only way we can really answer that question effectively is by getting people out into the field."

He said the project needs "citizen scientists" to go out into the field searching areas where milkweed is found. 

"Where there are milkweeds, there could be monarchs," he said. 

Lack of data

The monarch butterfly is a species at risk that migrates across the continent. They're most common in Alberta near the U.S. border where milkweed is abundant, but they have been seen as far north as Edmonton.

"There hasn't been a lot of data on where monarchs breed, particularly in western Canada," said Galpern.

The research is important in order to help protect the butterfly, which Galpern describes as an "iconic" species that's also an important pollinator. 

Galpern is encouraging people go out into natural habitats where there could be milkweed plants and check for caterpillars and eggs over the course of the summer.

Findings can then be reported at the Mission Monarch website.