Always on the lookout for new experiences (and ways with potential for getting lost, hurt, looking foolish, ending up on 'Cops' or any combination of those things) I saw an ad on Facebook for 'Monarch Butterfly Taggers'. The Madison Audubon group was asking for volunteers to go to the Goose Pond Sanctuary in Arlington to capture, tag and release Monarchs for the folks at Monarchwatch.org who track their migration to Mexico each year.
Goose Pond is gorgeous and the fields were blooming with goldenrod and fall asters. It was a little breezy, but warmed up quickly. Couldn't have picked a better day for capturing the Wee Beasties.
After a short how-to on how to capture, tag and release we were off!
That's 'Capture' (see the net??)...
'Tag' (that little sticker on the wing)
You'd think for sure they would just fly in circles with that sticker on their wings but they don't. Experiment complete. You're welcome.
There was also the part about recording the number from the sticker, whether is was a male or female and what flower you found them on.
The little buggers are a lot feistier and more difficult to catch than you'd think. It's almost impossible to catch them out of the air-they have to be on something and even then, if you don't get them on the first swoosh, they fly straight up out of reach. And with the strong breeze they're a half a mile closer to Mexico before you realized they aren't in the net. And don't get me starting on the fact that they clutch the net with their little sticky fingers so you have to disentangle them leg by leg, and usually discover as you're unsticking the last little leggie that they have started reattaching the first ones you just untangled back onto the net. They have six total! Told you! Tricky!
Once you got a proper hold of their wings, (that 'don't touch them or they can't fly thing' is an old wives's tale, by the way) and get them out of the net, they do an alligator death roll/ toddler-throwing-a-tantrum thing that would be off putting to say the least were they a bit bigger.... and not a,...well... butterfly!
Once we were in the groove, people were tagging and releasing like crazy, I was a little slower because I had to name each one of mine, give them pep talk and a tiny kiss before I let them go. Mexico is a long ways away you know! I like to think they appreciated the encouragement!
My team adamantly refused to tag the orange and brown leaf I captured, although, in the end they agreed that it did (somewhat) resemble a monarch. They MAY have been placating me. We can't be sure. I lost a bit of time there because I spent 5 minutes sneaking up on the dang thing to catch it.
We only caught one that we had tagged already which is pretty good. Last year the folks down south of the border found three that had been tagged at Goose Pond. The three were all in the same patch of trees in the same small sanctuary in central Mexico. Pretty amazing. I will be doing this again next year, but on my own. You can order the kits and do it yourself and I have a prairie at the end of my street with lots of milkweed in it. How cool would it be to get a note from Mexico for a butterfly you tagged yourself! And own your own butterfly net! not to mention that now I can add 'Butter Fly Tagging Technician' next to 'Marsupial Relocation Technician' and 'Salamander Transportation Specialist' to my lengthy resume! Score!
So if you're looking for fun and adventure, and you love insects, I highly recommend helping Madison Audubon and Monarch Watch out next fall. Too! Much! Fun!