Mary Kennedy and Mobi Warren showed up right around 10 AM on Saturday for their shifts as volunteers of the Monarch Larvae Monitoring Project (MLMP) citizen science program.
Milkweed Patch Citizen Science Project
With temperatures in the 50s, not much was flying at the Milkweed Patch at the San Antonio River Museum Reach just south of the Pearl Brewery. But that didn’t deter these novice lepidopterists from perusing dozens of milkweed plants, and noting the profuse life teeming in the understory.
What, exactly, do volunteers for the Monarch Larvae Monitoring Project do?
Simply, they monitor milkweed plants for all stages of the Monarch butterfly lifecycle–eggs, caterpillars in five stages, the lovely jade-green gold-flecked chrysalises, and the butterflies. The goal: to better understand how and why Monarch populations change over time and space and to conserve Monarchs and their threatened migration.
One aspect of the project requires inspecting adult butterflies for the unpronounceable Ophryocystis elektroscirrha, or OE, protozoan. Mary Kennedy, a former science teacher who has been involved with MLMP since 1999, demonstrates.
Kennedy carefully lifts a recently hatched Monarch, rubs a sterile Q-tip on its belly and tucks the sample into a zip-lock bag to be sent to a laboratory at the University of Minnesota. She then takes a special piece of round tape, holds it against the creature’s abdomen, and lifts scales and spores onto the adhesive.
Eeeew! OE spores look like little footballs next to Monarch Butterfly Scales–photo courtesy of MLMP
The tape is secured onto a sheet of paper and later will be viewed under a microscope for OE spores, which can be deadly to Monarch butterflies. The butterfly is then marked gently with a black marker as well as a cut-in-half Monarch Watch tag (used in the fall to help track their migration) so that it’s not inadvertently monitored again. Check out the slideshow above to see how it works.
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Interested in helping out at the Milkweed Patch? Volunteers meet on Saturdays at various times, depending on the weather. Contact Mary Kennedy at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.