Tagging monarchs at Cape May

I was able to see an impromptu monarch tagging demonstration on Sunday in Cape May. Their Monarch Monitoring Project has been conducted since 1991 and they’ve tagged tens of thousands of migrant monarchs in the 15 years since.
The butterflies are kept in an envelope in a cooler while waiting to be tagged. In this pic the naturalist is demonstrating how a small amount of the butterfly’s scales are removed (with a lovely painted fingernail) in order to make room for the tagging sticker to be attached.
She explained that each tag has a unique number and the address where to send the butterfly (or the tag) should it be recovered. 3M makes the stickers just for tagging and they don’t hinder the butterfly’s ability to fly at all.
Each butterfly is weighed and measured and a general assesment of its body condition is made. All of this info is recorded along with the tag number. With that, the butterfly is ready to be released and to resume its journey to Mexico. All that is needed is a cute little girl with nimble fingers.
The hand off. Ready…

The monarch lingered for a moment or two on the little girl’s palm before flying to the shrubbery nearby to warm in the sun.

Yearly counts and census info, as well as a brief history of the project, is available from NJ Audubon at this link. Certainly worth a read if you’re interested in more information.

16 thoughts on “Tagging monarchs at Cape May”

  1. I didn’t know migating monarchs were tagged either. Saturday was 80 degrees, sunny and windy and I saw many, many monarchs flying south. Today 50 degrees and not one monarch! They are forecasting hard frosts all week here in Minnesota. I hope all of those flying jewels are safely south of here!

  2. Something profoundly sad about
    that gorgeous creature having to
    carry a bloody manmade tag thru rest of it’s days as though
    “Approved by Homo Sapiens”,
    “Collecting Valuable Scientific Data” etc. From grizzlies and snow
    leopards to sea turtles & monarchs,
    we have to put our imprimatur on
    everything that moves.

    I know, I know–‘invaluable spec-
    ies-saving scientific data,’
    ‘makes work for wildlife biologists
    and statisticians’, blah, blah blah

    In the words of the late, great
    Doug Peacock…

    (A little cranky this AM, if you
    hadnt noticed)

  3. I have enjoyed reading this. Didn’t know about the tagging.

    and I have just finished reading your Cape May post. More good shots and the tallest lighthouse I have ever seen!

  4. I didn’t know monarchs are tagged either! Thanks for answering the questions that came to mind when I first started reading your post. I love the lady’s shirt.

  5. How do you tag a butterfly?
    (ans. very carefully.)

    When I found Monarchs migrated, I was surprised, Because, I thought they had a very brief existance.

  6. Michelle: Amazing, no?

    Susan: Some good info at the link – I really like the narrative in addition to the census data – interesting to see how the numbers have grown each year. Did you see where it mentioned the sea watch counter had estimated like a quarter of a million monarchs passing by his watch site in one afternoon? Can you imagine?

    Lynne: They do appear with the sunshine and if they’re not on their way way yet they do have to get going!

    Bunnygirl: Watch for them fluttering by!

    marci: Is this your first time commenting? Sorry you’re cranky when I just get the chance to say welcome!

    I won’t try to justify what we do in the name of science, only so much as to say that there is value in it, I’m sure you can see that? Research like this draws the attention of the public, and their money, and in this case I think the ends justify the means.

    Pam: Thanks for saying so.

    Sandy: I haven’t climbed the steps of this one yet (although I think there is an elevator). It’s a pretty one, I think and such a *presence* everywhere around Cape May.

    Naturewoman: I liked it too. You should have seen her butterfly net!

    Madcap: I thought so too. They said that the sticker doesn’t weigh any more than the scales they remove from the wing. And if you think of the wing conditions many butterflies *fly* with near the end of their days – I guess it makes sense. Does look out of place, though.

    Silverlight: Yes, very carefully! Actually, they didn’t seem so fragile as one might think.

    You’ve brought up an interesting point, in that *summer* monarchs live a brief few weeks, just long enough to mate and lay eggs. But these *fall* monarchs, the last generation of the year, will fly to Mexico, undergo a sort of hibernation through our winter months, then will begin the journey north, mate, lay eggs and di – living about 8 months. Their offspring, in successive generations, will return here next summer.

  7. Thanks for posting this, Laura. I didn’t know that monarchs could be tagged. Did you hold any? I pulled one from a lake the other day–I’m not sure how it ended up in the water. I was surprised by how prickly their legs are.

  8. I’m learning something new every day – even here in Monarch land, I didn’t know they were tagged! We are a hot spot for migrating Monarchs – several groves in our area are packed with them. Hmmm….perhaps I’ll wander out to one of them and try and get some pics for you.

    Thanks for stopping by – I’ve missed you!

  9. Lene: I didn’t hold any (that treat was reserved for the little ones) but got to feel those prickly legs when the naturalist demonstrated how the monarchs are prone to *hold on* when they’re cold. It felt like they had little barbs on their legs when I held out my finger!

    Tdharma: I would love to see pics of a monarch roost! I’ve missed you too.

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