Many of us believe the Monarch butterfly should be declared the Official Insect of San Antonio. Given our geographic location in the heart of the Texas flyway and the dramatic butterflies’ intimate connection to Mexico, it makes perfect sense. Monarch butterflies have already been declared the official bug of Texas.
Since Monarch butterflies are on the move this week, the Texas Butterfly Ranch is joining its sister site, the Rivard Report, to perform a Monarch butterfly tagging demonstration for “Something Monday,” tomorrow, October 21. Something Monday is a weekly learning outing sponsored by the site, co-founded by me and my husband Robert Rivard.
Meet us at 6:30 p.m. at the Milkweed Patch on the Museum Reach of the San Antonio River, tomorrow, October 21. We’ll gather downstream from the Pearl (map below) and demonstrate How to Tag a Monarch Butterfly. Park at the Pearl, cross the river, and walk south five minutes and you’ll be there.
Join us at the Milkweed Patch for ‘Something Monday’ to see how Monarch butterflies are tagged en route to Mexico. Photo by Monika Maeckle
Tag a Monarch butterfly? How does one do that?
You’ll have to join us to find out. But show some respect – the dramatic orange and black butterflies have had a tough year. Many of us believe that 2013 is shaping up to be their worst in history, population wise.
Professional and citizen scientists have been “tagging” the storied creatures since the ’50s. That’s how they figured out that the Monarchs that are passing through town right now are the great-great grandchildren of the ones that left Mexico last spring.
The Milkweed Patch before the drought. Don’t worry, the butterflies still show up. Photo by Monika Maeckle
Yep, that’s right. The butterflies that are migrating to Mexico this month through the “Texas Funnel” have never been to the roosting spot that is their final destination. That would be like finding your way to the home of your great-great grandmother without ever having known her address.
The methodology for unraveling this mystery entailed professional and citizen scientists “tagging” the butterflies throughout the Eastern U.S.
Monarch Watch, a citizen scientist program based at the University of Kansas at Lawrence, continues the program today.
The butterflies migrate to a remote mountainous area of southern Mexico in the winter, rouse in the spring, mate, then die. Their bodies are found on the forest floor. These days, scientists pay the local people of Michoacán $5 per recovered tag. In 1976, thanks to an intrepid Austin woman named Catalina Trail, scientists finally pieced together the puzzle and determined that Monarch butterflies are the only creatures on the planet to undertake a multi-generational migration.
“A” Marks the spot for the Milkweed Patch
And why the Milkweed Patch, you say?
Monarch butterflies will only lay their eggs on a particular plant–milkweed. The beautiful orange bloomer serves as the insects’ host plant and also provides nectar for fueling up for its long journey. The San Antonio River Authority planted a stand of milkweed on the Museum Reach four years ago when the River Walk was extended north.
Scientists didn’t piece together the puzzle of the Monarch butterfly migration until 1976.
The butterfly garden has since become known as The Milkweed Patch and is a regular hangout for Monarchs in the Spring and Fall, and other butterflies year-round. The Patch also is monitored by citizen scientists on behalf of the Monarch Larvae Monitoring Project.
Join us at the Milkweed Patch at 6:30 PM. Bring the kids. They’ll love it.
I’ll have a couple of butterfly nets and tags on hand to show you how its done. We’ll tag the butterflies, record their tag numbers, and make note if they are male and female. All that info will be to Monarch Watch and entered into a database that is accessible from the web.
We’ll release tagged butterflies to the wind with the hope they find their way to Mexico. Perhaps our ‘Something Monday’ Monarchs will be fortunate enough to complete the trip.
More posts like this:
Like what you’re reading? Don’t miss a single post from the Texas Butterfly Ranch. Sign up for email delivery in the right navigation bar on this page, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter, @monikam.