White and a team of 15 docents tagged more than 500 butterflies with the small round stickers, which were coded with the letters XSC followed by a number. The five recovered tags–two from females and three from males–were applied by small groups of visitors from 10AM – 2 PM October 22nd. Docents explained the monarch butterfly migration in general and how to tag monarchs in particular. They recorded the data and sent the butterflies off with the winds during peak monarch migration season here in the Texas Funnel. Another 220 tagged butterflies were released from the Festival’s custom-made Mariposa Pyramid, as a crowd of thousands watched in Pearl Park.
Commercially reared and tagged butterflies completing the migration to Mexico defies the conventional wisdom in the monarch butterfly world. Many in the science community contend that butterflies raised in captivity and shipped cross-country lack the Darwinian skill set to join the epic migration that unfolds each fall.
For years, scientists have asserted that coddled monarchs reared with access to infinite milkweed and protection from predators just don’t have what it takes to brave the harsh elements. While theories on how the sun’s cues, a butterfly’s geographic location, and ambient temperature affect a monarch’s ability to migrate provoke ongoing scientific debate, a general consensus exists that butterflies raised at a butterfly farm in Florida, sent by UPS to Texas and released in San Antonio will never make it to Mexico.
Anurag Agrawal, author of Monarchs and Milkweed: A Migrating Butterfly, A Poisonous Plant and their Remarkable Story of Coevolution, said he’s not surprised by the news. “I guessed it would be so,” said the monarch butterfly researcher and chemical ecologist at Cornell University, via email. “And now evidence shows that commercially reared monarchs can, and some do, successfully migrate to the Mexican overwintering grounds.”