Kitchener-Waterloo·Video

Cambridge, Ont. researchers want you to tag Monarch butterflies

A team in Cambridge, Ont. is looking for help tagging and tracking the declining Monarch butterfly population as the insects migrate to Mexico.

Tagged butterflies used to track the number of monarchs successfully migrating to Mexico

A team in Cambridge, Ont. is looking for help tagging and tracking the declining Monarch butterfly population as the insects migrate to Mexico. 

"These monarchs used to cover nearly 30 acres of forest in Mexico and now they're covering maybe 2 acres so it's a really drastic decline," said Jenna Quinn, a program scientist with the Rare Charitable Nature Reserve in Cambridge.

Quinn said butterflies are a good indicator species, meaning they help illustrate changes in weather, climate and ecosystem.

"By monitoring them we can learn a lot about a lot of other things going on in the environment," said Quinn. 

The data from the tagged butterflies is gathered by Monarch Watch, a group founded in 1992.

If you find a butterfly with a tag it's worth letting the organization know, Quinn said. 

"If I tag a butterfly here in Cambridge," said Quinn, "And the next day someone finds it somewhere in Waterloo that's still valuable information." 

The data collected can include:

  • how far a butterfly travels in a day.
  • the migration pathways they choose.
  • whether they are blown off course.

In addition the data will help researchers calculate the number of monarchs who safely arrive in Mexico. 

How to tag a butterfly

"It's actually quite simple, the tag is really just a sticker that attaches to the wings," said Quinn. 

The sticker is slightly larger than a hole punch, and account for about 2 per cent of the insect's body weight. 

Cambridge's Rare Charitable Nature Reserve is encouraging Waterloo Region residents to volunteer to tag monarch butterflies, an easy process that involves placing a sticker on the insect's wings. (Amanda Grant/CBC)

"Butterflies are delicate, you do have to be careful when you're handling them. Their wings are covered with tiny scales that to us just kind of looks like a powder," said Quinn.

"So you certainly do have to be careful, try to minimize contact to the wings." 

Quinn said to reduce the risk of hurting the insect you should hold the butterfly's body between two fingers, so the wings aren't flapping, then firmly press the sticker to the underside of the wing on the discal cell, which is in the shape of a mitten located in the middle of a monarch butterfly's wing. 

Most of the butterflies tagged come from two sources, either from insect populations that someone raises from caterpillars or from catching the species in the wild. 

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this article stated that the data from the tagged butterflies is gathered by Monarch Watch, a group first started in the 1940s. In fact, though Monarchs have been tagged since the 1940s, Monarch Watch was actually founded in 1992.
    Sep 25, 2015 8:39 AM ET

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.