Learn more about our Citizen Science projects below by clicking on the links. If you have any additional questions once you have registered, please post them in the forum
In North America each autumn more than 250 million Monarchs leave the United States and southern Canada and journey south for up to 2,500 miles to their overwintering roosts in the mountain fir forests of west Mexico City. Their numbers have been declining and scientists are worried.
In NZ we know even less about our Monarchs and their overwintering behaviour. Where do they overwinter? How many sites are there?
Monarch butterflies are known as ‘indicator species’ as they are easy to see and also not afraid of humans. They are considered today’s ‘canaries of the coal mines’. With the information from our tagging programme we will be better prepared to protect Monarchs and measure changes to our environment – not only for Monarch butterflies but what affects other insects too. If insects are affected, our very survival will be affected. This is one way in which citizen scientists (that’s you!) can participate in a real science project.
The aim is to find out about the Monarch’s winter behaviour, so we try and tag the overwintering generation, not those butterflies that emerge through spring and summer.
Firstly you need to register. It is absolutely free to join! On the home page select ‘Register’. You will need to select a Username which you cannot change, so choose wisely. You will receive an email with a password in it which you will be able to change to something more memorable.
When the email arrives, login with your Username and the password emailed to you. We suggest you copy and paste the password in – and then change it.
When registering, slowly type your physical address into the address bar allowing the system to search for your address as you enter it. When the correct address is showing, highlight it from the dropdown list, and you will note that the correct geographic co-ordinates appear in the box below.
When you receive your tags you will see that they come in sheets of 25. That means you can potentially tag 25 butterflies from one sheet of tags.
The tags are numbered from the left-hand side downwards in five columns of five tags each. Each tag has a unique number. When you request tags we record the numbers of the tags assigned to you alongside your Username. You will be able to see the tag numbers in the dropdown menu of your profile. Under the ‘Research’ tab select ‘Tag Butterfly’.
Each year we use a new series of tags and older ones are discarded or used to practise – but not on real butterflies please. When you tag and release a butterfly you will need to record the details online. Make sure you use the tags in numerical order.
The tags are manufactured in the United States specifically for our project. They are made of polypropylene containing special 3M glue on one side for fixing to the butterfly’s wing. They can last in all weather for up to a year.
1. Using the tip of a toothpick gently remove the tag from the backing sheet. Do not touch the adhesive side as the oils on your skin could affect the longevity of the glue. Put the toothpick with the tag on it to one side.
2. Let the butterfly walk onto your finger by putting your finger right in front of the butterfly’s head. Or hold all four wings together (with a scissor grip) and then place one finger from the other hand underneath the body of the butterfly using just enough pressure to encourage it to let go of what it is holding onto.
3. Using that scissor grip you should be able to hold all four wings at once between your two fingers, close to the butterfly’s body so that you can see most of the wings.
4. Place the tag on the central discal cell of one of the hind wings (the discal cell is the shape of a stretched mitten – coloured blue in the picture). The tag should be visible when the wing is closed. Placement is shown by the pink circle. Either hindwing can be used.
5. Roll the toothpick out of the way and press the tag gently in place with your thumb for a few seconds to ensure that it’s firmly stuck.
6. Once you have tagged and released a butterfly you will then need to record the details online.
No. The discal cell is at the butterfly’s centre of lift and gravity and therefore placing a tag in this position won’t impede the butterfly’s flight.
Each tag weighs 0.006g which is 1.2% of the mass of a butterfly. Attaching a tag makes the Monarch about as lopsided as you are when you put your keys or cellphone in your pocket!
Each year there is a new series of tags and these can be ordered from February onwards. Tagging begins on 1 March so we can tag the last generation of Monarchs for the season, and continue tagging until the last butterfly emerges.
We do not tag all year round. Monarchs that we tag after 1 March in any given year are likely to overwinter. We hope to be able to find them returning to gardens in the spring – or at their overwintering site.
Butterflies that emerge during the spring and summer are likely to reproduce and continue the species.
Once you have registered you can request tags (after February each year). Login and then select ‘Dashboard’ on the home page. Under the ‘Research’ tab, select ‘Request Tags’.
If you are new to tagging and want to practise first you can also order practise tags and paper butterflies. These are free.
If the information you have entered is correct, tags generally arrive within one working week of your ordering them.
The best time to tag a butterfly is shortly after it emerges from its chrysalis. It will spend several hours drying its wings before flight. Tag it when its wings are dry but before it flies away.
We only tag the overwintering generation but of course monarchs don’t follow the same strict seasons that we do – so it is hard to know when they will stop breeding, and when they will go into diapause. For that reason we start tagging from about 1 March and stop when our last monarchs emerge for that season. New tags will be issued for the following year.
Log in to the website. Under the ‘Research’ tab select ‘Tag Butterfly’. In the ‘Address’ box begin to type your address (or the address of a nearby home) until the programme finds your exact address from the information typed in. You will notice it will prompt you with addresses (the line will go blue), and you can select the correct address. The correct latitude and longitude should appear automatically next to ‘Co-ordinates’. If you have issues with your address, please add to the discussion in the forum.
Choose the correct tag number from the pull down menu under ‘Tag’. You can choose to record the condition of your butterfly, whether you reared it or if is wild (i.e. you don’t know its origin) and whether it’s a male or female. Males have thinner veins than females and also have a ‘scent pouch’ (which shows as a black spot) on each hind wing.
(Photos thanks to Darren Gedye)
Optional information you may like to include about the butterfly you tagged and releases are:
Weight – To weigh a butterfly, place the butterfly inside a fold of paper and weigh with very delicate scales. Remove the butterfly from the folded paper and weigh the piece of paper on its own. Subtract the weight of the paper from the combined weight of the butterfly and folded paper. Monarchs typically weight about 0.5g.
Size – Measure the wing length from the point of the forewing where it is attached to the body across to the outer tip of the forewing.
Once you have entered all the information for your released butterfly, select ‘Submit’.
Log in and then select ‘Dashboard’. Click on the ‘Research’ tab and then ‘Tag Recoveries’. On this page you can find the results of all tags recovered each year. You will also receive an email if any of your tagged butterflies are found. Alternatively you can scroll through the list to search for the your tagged butterflies. Only recovered butterflies are displayed.
From the home page, select ‘Report a sighting: Butterfly or Pest’ or go to www.mb.org.nz (this address is also printed on the tags). Enter the details of the butterfly you found such as where you found it etc.
The MBNZT began tagging and transects in 2005. In the spring of 2007 we also began recording pest sightings. From this we have learned that the most common pest is the Asian Paper Wasp.
Monarchs have been tagged in North America since the 1930s.
In America the majority of the tags recovered these days are obtained in Mexico. Early each year Monarch Watch personnel visit the overwintering sites, particularly El Rosario and Sierra Chincua, where they buy tags from the guides and Mexican people. The ratio of untagged to tagged Monarchs is quite high and it takes most residents several hours to find each tag among the butterflies, visiting sites along streams or on the trails and under the Monarch-covered trees. The researchers pay 50 pesos (about NZ$7-8) for each tag – reasonable compensation for the time and energy spent locating each tag.
In the late 1960s Auckland Museum entomologist Keith Wise undertook tagging and his findings were reported in 1980 (Rec Auckland Inst Mus 17: 157-173, 17 December 1980). At that time, he said “…the project did not produce the information sought on dispersal of Monarch butterflies…” and that “…no large scale migrations or movements were detected by tagging.”
“The project, had in the main, established that large numbers of Monarch butterflies in the North Island stayed in their home areas both in summer and winter periods, although a small number did make long flights. At the same time the presence of known overwintering colonies was confirmed, particularly one at Tauranga Bay in the far north, but no movements into or out of these were recorded.”
In North America the recovery data is posted on Monarch Watch’s website and is analysed to test hypotheses concerning Monarch orientation and navigation. The data are also used to determine mortality during the migration and estimate the number of Monarchs in the overwintering population. These analyses are summarised on their website subsequent to the publication of the articles in scientific journals. This provides useful information in a way that avoids hurting or harming the butterflies.
Here in New Zealand, while we respect the personal details of both our taggers and those who find tagged Monarchs, and keep this information confidential, we are happy to share the information captured with anyone who would like to use the information for scientific research. This includes students as well as professional and amateur scientists. Send a request to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We can provide you with practise tags and practise paper butterflies (limited supply) or a template to make your own practise butterflies (printer/copier required).
You will also need a toothpick per child and a small piece of Blu-tak.
1. Children should work in pairs. Child 1 will be the branch holding the butterfly – fold the butterfly in half, wings to the outside, and put a piece of Blu-tak on its abdomen. Stick this to your finger so that the butterfly looks like it’s resting on a branch.
2. Child 2, using the toothpick, should carefully remove the ‘first’ tag (remember the tags are individually numbered, and the first tag has the lowest number, e.g. ABC100). Oil from your skin could affect the glue on the tag, so put the tag onto the point of a toothpick. It is easiest if you curl the backing sheet over your finger. Also, the tag should sit on the very tip of the toothpick.
3. Child 2, using a scissor-like motion, should take the butterfly by all four wings. This places the least amount of pressure on the butterfly. Then place the tag on the distal cell in the middle of the hindwing, and roll the toothpick away.
4. Press lightly, make a note of your tag number if you haven’t already, and release the butterfly outside.
5. Repeat, reversing the roles so that Child 1 gets a chance to tag a butterfly.
If you would like to download the full notes for the project and keep a paper copy on hand, they can be found by clicking on this link here.
We suggest that you print them out and keep them in a folder with your tags. You might also like to write your Username and password on them – saves time requesting new password(s) if you forget!
Some reports showing the progress of tagged butterflies indicate the ‘found’ butterflies were released off the coast of Africa! This needs to be fixed. If the grid reference (geocode) for the release is not registered correctly, the system will choose 0 degrees latitude and 0 degrees longitude (which is off the coast of Africa).
However, it can easily be rectified if you follow the instructions below.Please check the following:
2. Under the line where YOUR address shows (mine is shown in the example) are your location’s geocodes (geographical co-ordinates) visible? If not, click on the red underlined link (“Click here to enter your details manually.”) You need to change the way your address appears, which will automatically generate these codes.
3. Go back to the address line, and begin typing your address in slowly. Remember: no house or farm names, just start with the street or road number, then the road or street name etc.
4. After a few letters of the street name, the system will offer suggestions. Even if you don’t like the suburb chosen for you, if the address is otherwise correct accept the address details generated for you and press the ENTER key.
5. The latitude and longitude for that address should now have been accepted into the system.
If you cannot understand these instructions – or have further questions – please email email@example.com
Make sure you’re logged in (Welcome your name on the right-hand side). Otherwise log in.
Click on Research (under your “Welcome your name“)
On the left-hand side (black background, white text) you should now see the various options to do with Research such as Request Tags and Tag Butterfly.
PS If you haven’t yet registered, then these notes won’t work for you.