Crab Orchard tags monarchs to track migration south

Crab Orchard National Refuge hosted its annual Butterfly Roundup where participants caught and tagged migrating monarch butterflies.

By Elizabeth Biernacki, Staff Reporter

Participants at the annual Butterfly Roundup tagged migrating monarchs on their way to Mexico as they passed through Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge.

According to the refuge’s website, each year hundreds of monarch butterflies travel through our area when making their perilous journey to spend the cold months of winter in Mexico. Around 40 participants tagged 15 butterflies on Saturday Sept. 14.

“It’s very important to tag [monarchs] because it’s the only butterfly so far that the scientific community has found that does a migration round trip,” Dana Malave Miller, a ranger at the park, said.

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Crab Orchard Refuge buys small white circular stickers to tag the butterflies’ wings from an organization called Monarch Watch. Anyone in the world can track monarch migration as well as input the data themselves. 

On tagged butterflies, the white sticker can be found on the bottom inside of the left or right wing. 

According to Malave Miller, there is a lot of information that can be discovered with the tags including migration path and how many of the monarchs eventually make it to Mexico. 

When tagging monarchs the geographic location of the tag, date, sex and unique code on the tag is recorded.

Before going out to a clover field, participants met at the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center where Malave Miller gave a presentation, as many participants had never tagged monarchs before.

“When we come out here, of course, [participants] learn about migration path, metamorphosis, stages in the life cycle of metamorphosis, we learn what is a migration trip, we learn how to do the tagging process, [and] why we’re doing it,” Malave Miller said.

Evan Campbell, a 7-year-old from Carterville, said he has learned a lot about how to tell if a monarch is a male or female, and about their lifecycle. He caught three monarchs during the event and said he thinks more people should participate in tagging because it’s fun.

“If it was easy, it would not be very fun,” Evan said. “Since it’s so hard, I think it’s more fun when it’s harder.”

A retired academic adviser from SIU, Becky Reed, had tips on how to catch monarchs.

“Catching them is easiest if you catch them low to the ground and then you put the net over them on the ground, lift the net, let them fly up into the net and then you can catch them that way,” Reed said.

To catch monarchs, you have to be just as quick as you are lucky, Reed said. She said she enjoys events like these so much that she’s gone to similar events including ones at Crab Orchard National Refuge and Giant City State Park.

“I really enjoy watching the children’s faces when they catch the butterflies; they get so excited, and I like seeing the children get excited about nature,” Reed said.

Staff reporter Elizabeth Biernacki can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @EBiernacki_619.

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