I wrote a few weeks ago about using online and social media tools to keep up with Monarch butterfly news. Even more immediate data can be gleaned from Twitter search.
For those unaware, Twitter is a free, real-time search engine, as well as a broadcast outlet for individuals and organizations. That means you can visit search.twitter.com and punch in “monarch butterflies” or “monarch migration” or “butterfly” and you’ll find hours-old “tweets”–brief 140-character updates–that can be used to track the migration in real time. Twitter was conceived as a mass text messaging tool, thus the brevity of the updates. It refreshes constantly, and for Twitter search you don’t even need to have an account.
Unlike Google, Twitter search ONLY indexes recent updates on Twitter, while Google is more of a library* or archive for the entire web. Think of it as a search engine for public text-like messages with a shelf life of days, maybe weeks.
The results from these searches paint an amazing picture of what’s going on with the Monarch migration NOW. Yes, there’s junk in there, but also real-time facts. By clicking on the Twitterer’s profile, you learn their location. In the case of a “monarch butterfly migration” search, that suggests where Monarch butterflies are flying RIGHT NOW.
Here’s a couple of tweets from today:
- OurLittleAcre Kylee Baumle: (3 minutes ago) I saw several monarch butterflies flying around the yard today. Get thee to Mexico! Winter is coming my friends!
- emilyyylbs Emily Pounds: (4 hours ago) I’ve seen many #monarchbutterflies lately, it makes my heart smile.
- mammelton50 Mary Ann Melton (7 hours ago) Seeing solitary monarch butterflies flitting above the highway heading south on their migration.
As mentioned, the person’s Twitter handle (click on the blue hyperlinked text in the tweet) reveals their profile and location. Those mentioned above hail from Ohio, Texas, and Hutto, Texas (not everyone names their city).
This is useful info for Monarch butterfly trackers like myself. Many of us plan “tag team” outings whereby fellow butterfly wranglers gather for a weekend of tagging, doing our part to help track the migration. Knowing when the Monarchs are coming is helpful, and interesting.
Scientists could conceivably tap this information and map the migration in real-time, making even more use of the power of citizen scientists. Who will develop an app for that?
Twitter’s not for everyone, but for those interested in clocking the migration in real-time, it can be indispensable. Check out this Twitter search for Monarch butterflies.