Thunder Bay

Tiny tags track butterflies from northwestern Ontario

Ten monarch butterflies from northwestern Ontario will begin their journey south with a souvenir from northwestern Ontario.

Dryden-area naturalist tagged 10 monarchs this summer

Ellen Riggins is a naturalist who lives east of Dryden, Ont. (Carolle Eady)

Ten monarch butterflies from northwestern Ontario will begin their journey south with a souvenir from northwestern Ontario.

This summer, Ellen Riggins, who lives on Dinorwic Lake, east of Dryden, Ont., took part in a project to tag and track monarchs.

"I've always loved butterflies," Riggins said.

So this summer, when she discovered a clump of swamp milkweed near her home was playing host to over 20 monarch caterpillars, she decided to take part in a project she'd heard about in the media. 

"I decided that I'd try this tagging," she said. 

Ellen Riggins said she waited and watched over a cluster of chrysalises near her home. (Ellen Riggins)

Riggins reached out to — a citizen science effort to learn more about monarch migration patterns by marking and releasing the butterflies — to order her tags. 

How do you tag a butterfly?

She then kept a close watch on the chrysalises, hoping to catch the butterflies just after they emerged, before they could fly away. 

"And when I saw one emerge ... there's a special way you pick them up, and there's a special spot on the monarch that you put the tag, and then you place them back on the plant and eventually the wings dry and off they go."

A photo on the website accompanies instructions about how to capture, tag and release the butterflies. (

The small white adhesive tags are marked with the website address, a phone number and a number particular to Riggins, she said, so that if they're discovered, people will know exactly where they originated, and who tagged them. 

Their northwestern Ontario origin would no doubt make them a unique find. Riggins said she hasn't heard of any others taking part in the tagging project in the region.

The monarchs must be carefully captured and tagged, according to instructions from, so that they can be tracked as part of an effort to better understand the population and its migration pattern. (Ellen Riggins)

All in all, Riggins said she was able to tag 10 butterflies this summer. Although she doesn't think the chances are high that one of them will be spotted, she said she would be thrilled to get a surprise call.

"If anyone finds a butterfly that has one of my tags, I will be contacted," she said.

"That would be fabulous."