Tag a butterfly… help science!

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Tag a butterfly… help science!

Ever wonder where Monarch butterflies go for the winter?

The Monarch Butterfly New Zealand Trust is looking for ‘citizen scientists’ throughout the country to report sightings as the Monarchs follow their annual migration.

A degree is not needed; anyone can take part, and everyone, schools included, are welcome to join the Trust’s annual project.

Secretary Jacqui Knight says if we are to conserve species effectively, it is vital we monitor how they are faring.

“The status of our flora and fauna depends on the effects of climate change, pollution, alien species and land management,” she said. “We need to know more about our insects to predict the impacts of such change, and to develop an appropriate response.”

Butterflies are uniquely placed to act as indicators of environmental change.

“By tagging and following Monarchs, we can use them as indicators of the status of our environment here in NZ,” said Dr Mark Hauber, who works in the field of Ecology, Evolution and Behaviour at the University of Auckland’s Biological Sciences.

“Tagging serves a dual purpose,” he says. “Not simply by collecting critical data, but also by introducing people to the method and purpose of scientific investigation.”

The butterflies typically form large clusters, sometimes containing hundreds or thousands of butterflies, on trees in well-sheltered areas during the colder winter months.

Until the Trust started tracking Monarchs there was little research being done as to why butterflies appeared to be retreating from urban areas.
“This is important,” says Jacqui. “We need to find out where the Monarchs overwinter because this late summer generation forms the breeding stock for the next year’s Monarch population.”

It’s not only Monarchs:  Data is needed on other butterflies and moths too, such as the Forest Ringlet and Red Admirals. Entomologists are concerned about NZ’s endemic Lepidoptera.

South Island lepidopterist Brian Patrick talks of a tiny purple copper butterfly which now exists only in one coastal car park.

“It’s teetering on the very edge of survival,” he said.

“The plight of our butterfly fauna is heavily dependent on human respect if they are to survive and thrive. Several butterflies are threatened with extinction even before they are described.”

Overseas countries have learned the hard way – it is not too late for us to undertake research. People are being encouraged to report sightings of all butterflies and day-flying moths on the Trust’s website, and also to help with tagging.

Soon, small white numbered tags will be applied to the wings of migrating Monarchs. It is hoped that the butterflies will be subsequently seen in overwintering places, and people will report the tag number to the website of the Trust.

The Trust is keen to involve gardeners, nature-lovers, trampers, schools, and home-schooled children in these projects.

All the information needed to register and how to play your part is on the Monarch Butterfly NZ Trust website: https://www.monarch.org.nz. If you have don’t have the technology, you can write to the Monarch NZ Trust, PO Box 44 100, Pt Chevalier, Auckland 1246.

(496 words)

For further information and high resolution photographs, email trust@monarch.org.nz

Jacqui Knight, 0274 814 811 or 09 403 8543, Jacqui@monarch.org.nz

Mark Hauber, 09 373 7599 x 89436 or 021 066 2619

12 Comments

  1. tramp
    Posted February 28, 2009 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

    Congratulations everyone! the new web site is most attractive and easy to follow, well done. Tramp

  2. keenj
    Posted March 17, 2009 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    Have had trouble with mason bees and lace wing moths, so no caterpillars. I even tried to save some indoors, but the cyrsalis failed to develop. Have lots of plants and have only managed to tag one butterfly.
    Very disappointing time. keenj

  3. christine francis
    Posted May 29, 2009 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    this year I took around 30 small caterpillars in doors to save them from the ason bees, wasps etc. I had around 28 crysalis’ form and released that many butterflies out doors. have also spotted around 20-30 butterflies laying eggs… some of which were probably mine.. so Napier must have had a really good year.. still have crysalis’ in my garden.. will they still develop over the winter months?

  4. banthony
    Posted February 27, 2011 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    Interested for a couple of years. We have built our own “safe house” which is filled with swan plants and caterpillars. The house is covered with green mesh top keep out the wasps etc. And swan plants outside from which we retrieve the caterpillars to go into the house. So far this year we have released 36 monarchs and expect to double this soon. What fun it is!

  5. bill lowe
    Posted March 11, 2012 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

    i am new to this tagging and like the idea of being involved but look at the numbers released and the numbers found. ten thousand one year wth approx 250 retreived. something is in imbalanced. I also wonder if someone found a tagged butterfly what would they do with it? Also if we get school kids involved and they start catching butterflies could we start becoming part of the problem, ie; killing the population trying to track them. Just some thoughts

  6. Posted March 16, 2012 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

    Hello Bill

    Have only just found your message. 3% is typical for the number of sightings 3% of 10,000 would be 300. The difficulty is making people aware that there are tagged butterflies out there. I think a lot of people would see a butterfly “with a white dot on its wing” and not be aware that it is tagged.

    The tags have our website on them (www.mb.org.nz). We assume that people will go to that website and then put in the details.

    With the involvement of school children it is something that we have to be aware of – that they might hurt the butterflies. But e are making sure they are instructed in being responsible and careful and caring.

    It’s a bit of a “chicken and egg” situation. I met a teacher who refused to have someon ecome to the school to talk about animal welfare because (she said) the kids were cruel and it would only encourage them to be cruel – if they had the knowledge about what would “hurt”. Hopefully, however, enough responsible kids would get the message to put the pressure on the kids who didn’t care.

    It is something we are aware of.

    Jacqui

  7. Janny
    Posted May 3, 2012 at 12:08 am | Permalink

    We need to make more people aware about Tagging. Had no Idea at all, am passing on to as many as I can get to listen.
    Have raised 35 this year being my 1st it has been absolutely awesome, only one who cant fly (lily) 2 weeks old now, have been Hand feeding, but she has learnt to feed Herself now, this is great, not sure how long she will live.

  8. nmkozik
    Posted January 25, 2013 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

    i would like to know how to help tag plz email me

  9. Posted January 25, 2013 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

    There is information on our website under the Projects tab – here’s a direct link to the information:

    https://www.monarch.org.nz/projects/taggingtransects/

    It is the overwintering generation of Monarch butterflies that we want to tag. During the warmer seasons Monarchs go through their metamorphosis and the adults begin reproduction within one or two days after they’ve emerged from the chrysalis.

    However, the Monarchs that emerge at the onset of “winter”, although they are sexually mature, they will go into a state called diapause and will not breed. It is that generation that we want to tag and measure where they travel/how long they live.

    As we don’t know when they go into diapause (the insect’s clock is affected by the weather, the hours of sunlight etc) we begin tagging in March, and tag until we “run out” of Monarchs during the winter.

    We begin each year with a new series of tags and they will become available in February. It is best to either join as a financial member to be kept fully informed, or watch our website for updates. There are more benefits in becoming a financial member, of course, as the magazine is full of information about Monarchs, plants suitable for butterflies/moths, and also about New Zealand’s species that you can attract to your garden.

    After you have registered for the project, please keep watching our website and reading our magazines for more information.

    Cheers

    Jacqui Knight
    Secretary

  10. marionleahy
    Posted February 20, 2013 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    Last year not good as I was in England. This year started late but going well now. My garden is a jungle of swan plants. I made tags from icecream boxes and tag both caterpillars and crysalids in the garden. I try to move any wanting to hang less that a foot off the ground as the hedgehogs love the night snacks. If i cannot move them in time I try to shelter them but the hogs will even push a brick out of the way. So far this year I have released fifty butterflies and there are over fifty more on leaves hanging in my kitchen window. Those on stems usually stay outside and I have about 150 more in the garden. Still more caterpillars and butterflies in the garden. A great thrill. Most years I raise around 450 of the beauties.

  11. GaynorTait
    Posted March 29, 2014 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    I have just tagged another butterfly, and for some stupid reason the form will not come up for me to release the tag number and information. Still having trouble getting to leave message on forum too.

  12. Posted March 29, 2014 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

    All sorted Gay.

    Cheers

    Jacqui

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