- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
The research paper covered the first five years, 2012 to 2016, of the ongoing project. Citizen scientists tagged and released nearly 15,000 monarchs in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and British Columbia in the late summer and fall. The number recovered? Sixty.
"On average, these butterflies averaged almost 40 miles of travel each day," James told the WSU News Service. "That's pretty remarkable for such a small creature."
One of the monarchs released Aug. 28, 2016 in Ashland, Ore., by citizen scientist Steven Johnson fluttered into our yard in Vacaville, Calif., on Sept. 5, a 457-kilometer journey. We happened to be home and photographed the traveler, a male. The discal cell tag read "firstname.lastname@example.org 6093." WSU is my alma mater, so double excitement!
What was the longest recorded journey? A monarch that David James released in Yakima, Wash. It was recovered near Goleta, Calif., a distance of 845 miles.
When No. 6093 stopped in our yard for some flight fuel, he sipped nectar from Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia) and butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii) and milkweed (in this case, tropical milkweed, Asclepias curassavica.)
Scientists believe that monarchs ride warm air currents (thermals) a few thousand feet from the ground. Then, they use strong upper-air currents to navigate.
It's a long, tough journey, averaging nearly 500 miles, and often with strong winds, heavy rain, or triple-digit temperatures. They need food (nectar from flowers) and often they don't escape predators, including birds, praying mantids and spiders, and such diseases as Ophryocystis elektroscirrha, a protozoan parasite.
Perhaps some day migrating monarchs will be microchipped, if a lightweight chip is invented. "Then we can just chip 100 or 200 butterflies and not tag 15,000," James pointed out.
The research paper is titled "Citizen Scientist Tagging Reveals Destinations of Migrating Monarch Butterflies, Danaus plexippus (L.) from the Pacific Northwest." (See this site for the full text).
The fall migration of Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) in the Pacific Northwest (PNW) was studied in an unfunded citizen science project during 2012—16 by tagging 13778 reared and 875 wild Monarchs. More than a third of these Monarchs were reared by inmates of the Washington State Penitentiary (WSP) in Walla Walla, Washington. Sixty (0.41 %) tagged Monarchs were recovered from distances greater than 10 km (mean: 792.9 ± 48.0 km) with most found in California, SSW of release points. One WSP-reared Monarch was found 724 km to the SE in Utah. Monarchs tagged in Oregon flew SSE to California. No Idaho-tagged Monarchs were found in California but two were recovered at locations due south. No wild tagged Monarchs from Washington, Oregon or Idaho were recovered. Monarchs from Washington and Oregon were found during October-February at 24 coastal California overwintering sites spanning 515 km from Bolinas to Carpinteria. A single wild spring Monarch tagged in May in northern California was recovered 35 days later and 707 km ENE in Twin Falls, Idaho. This study provides compelling evidence that many Monarchs in southern and central parts of Washington and Oregon migrate south in the fall to overwintering sites along the California coast. It also provides some evidence for southerly and south-easterly vectoring of migrating Monarchs from eastern Washington and Idaho, indicating the possibility of migration to Arizona or Mexico overwintering sites. In addition to improving our understanding of Monarch migration in the PNW, this study also contributed to conservation by adding nearly 14000 butterflies to the population. The incredible involvement of incarcerated and non-incarcerated citizen scientists generated much community and media interest which in turn led to greater involvement by citizens. Increased awareness of Monarchs, their biology and conservation in the PNW has been an unexpected but important spin-off of this study."
James is grateful for all the citizen scientists assisting with the project. It would not have been possible without them. Indeed, inmates at Walla Walla State Penitentiary alone reared one-third of the monarchs. (See feature story in Entomology Today, published by the Entomological Society of America.)
Here's what you can do to help the migrating monarchs on their journey:
- Plant nectar-rich flowers. They need flight fuel to continue their journey to the overwintering sites along coastal California.
- Don't use pesticides in your garden
- Keep your eye out for tagged migrating monarchs in the late summer and fall and try to photograph them.
- Visit overwintering sites, such as Natural Bridges State Park in Santa Cruz and the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary in Pacific Grove, and look for--and record--tagged monarchs.
- Stay up-to-date by following the Facebook page, Monarch Butterflies in the Pacific Northwest. It now has nearly 5000 followers.
- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
But at least we know he hails from Ashland.
That's what we learned about the male monarch that fluttered into our pollinator garden in Vacaville, Calif. on Monday, Sept. 5 (Labor Day) on his way to an overwintering site along the California coast.
The tag read "email@example.com," and serial number "A6093," which ties the butterfly to a research project led by Washington State University entomologist David James. He maintains a network of Pacific Northwest citizen scientists who rear, tag and release monarchs.
When I wrote a Bug Squad blog on Oct. 17, 2014 about James' work, encouraging folks to be on the lookout for WSU-tagged monarchs, I figured I'd never see one. Not me. Not ever. And then it happened. A6093 dropped down for some flight fuel.
His presence was pure serendipity for several reasons: (1) I had earlier written about James' work; (2) I'm a WSU grad--"Go Cougars!" and (3) I rear monarchs for conservation purposes (40 so far this season).
So, on Labor Day, I happened to be hanging out in our 600-square-foot pollinator garden, the ever-present camera strapped around my neck, when I spotted a white-tagged monarch 15 feet away. I edged closer (three feet and 10 inches, to be exact), and photographed serendipity.
It was a good day to hang out with a marvelous, magnificent monarch linked to my alma mater and an insect that matters. And I did.
The fellow that reared him was Steve Johnson of Ashland, Ore., a member of the Southern Oregon Monarchs Advocates (SOMA). He tagged him and released him on Sunday, Aug. 28. "So, assuming it didn't travel much on the day you saw it, it flew 285 miles in 7 days or about 40.7 miles per day," WSU entomologist David James told me on Sept. 6. "Pretty amazing. So, I doubt he broke his journey for much more than the five hours you watched him--he could be 100 miles further south by now. Clearly, this male is on his way to an overwintering colony and it's possible we may sight him again during the winter in Santa Cruz or Pacific Grove!”
What a traveler! Let's see, by car it's 410 miles from Ashland to the overwintering site of Santa Cruz. It's 451 miles from Ashland to Pacific Grove. And it's about 113 miles from Vacaville to Santa Cruz. I can get lost in a five-mile range.
After posting a Bug Squad blog on the migrating monarch, I received a delightful email from Steve Johnson, with the subject line “I am the tagger!”
Omigosh! The tagger!
“I am so glad that my progeny, A6093, made it to Vacaville,” he began. “I have released about 80 monarchs thus far this season and have tagged about 30." This is his first year to tag. Some were raised from eggs while others were collected as caterpillars from native milkweed on a five-acre parcel outside of Ashland (a parcel that includes 2.5 acres of vineyards). Some were reared at his home in Ashland.
"Since that time, the population has exploded on the property. That fall, we found a large caterpillar in the vineyard and just put a fire pit screen over it to protect it. Well, it made its chrysalis on the screen and we moved it to our greenhouse since it was starting to get cool in October. After 21 days it eclosed and we released it at the very end of October. We seriously considered driving it to Redding because of the pending forecast for an early winter-type storm!”
Yes, "monarch parents" are dedicated!
So last year Steve and Laurel began collecting caterpillars from the five acres and rearing them in commercially available cages. And, with the seed they collected in her vineyards and gardens, they also planted showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa) in large pots at his house in town. They released 85 monarchs last year.
This spring, he and Laurel planted more seed at his house in town, both in pots and in the ground. The old adage, "plant it and they will come," rang true. The monarchs came!
“Although the butterflies were not numerous, a few females loved to lay their eggs in the potted milkweed and we probably collected as many caterpillars/eggs on the 1/3 acre in town as we did on the five acres in the vineyard," Johnson related. "For some reason there are far fewer butterflies and caterpillars on the five acres this year as compared to last year. In fact, right now, we are only seeing occasional migrants nectaring on our butterfly wall. We had days where we would see 8-10 monarchs skittering about the vineyard and gardens but not close to what we had last year. In town, in addition, we planted heartleaf milkweed (Asclepias cordifolia) and despite its small size in the first year we collected a few caterpillars from this beautiful species.”
Give a lot of credit to the Southern Oregon Monarchs Advocates (SOMA), formed in 2014, and to its leader Tom Landis. Last year SOMA reared and released more than 2000 monarchs as part of the WSU project. "This year we're putting more emphasis on controlled rearing in schools and have over a half-dozen schools in northern California and southern Oregon participating," said Landis, who worked at a Forest Service nursery in Colorado and then served as an Extension agent for nurseries across the west. "My primary focus has been monarchs and milkweeds workshops (67 so far) and creating pollinator habitat with monarch way stations."
Meanwhile, WSU entomologist David James continues his monarch research. In his "Annual Project Progress Report for 2015: Developing an Understanding of Monarch Butterfly Breeding and Migration Biology in the Pacific Northwest," the associate professor wrote that "with assistance from inmates at the Washington State Penitentiary, a total of 1487 monarchs were reared, tagged and released from Walla Walla, Yakima and Prosser during August and September. An additional 1400 monarchs were reared and tagged by citizen science collaborators in Oregon, Idaho and Nevada. Nineteen fall migrants were tagged at Lower Crab Creek. Thus, a grand total of 2906 monarchs were tagged during late summer and fall 2015 in the Pacific Northwest. At the time of writing (February 2016), 16 tagged monarchs have been recovered at distances greater than 50 miles from the release location, mostly in overwintering colonies on the California coast. The longest distance traveled was 775 miles by 2 males released at Walla Walla and Pasco found in the same overwintering colony at Morro Bay, CA. "
His project goals and objectives are five-fold:
- To determine the phenology and ecology of monarch butterfly breeding in eastern Washington.
- To determine migration directions, routes and destinations used by summer and autumn monarch butterfly generations in the Pacific Northwest.
- To determine the environmental cues responsible for inducing reproductive dormancy and migratory behavior in Pacific Northwest monarch butterflies.
- To engage incarcerated citizens at the Washington State Penitentiary in scientific research with demonstrable social and educational benefits to themselves and the corrections community.
- To provide scientific information needed for development of effective and targeted nectar and host plant conservation strategies along monarch butterfly migration corridors
As for Steve Johnson, it's really a small world. The "Monarch Dad" is connected to UC Davis and the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR). His late father, Walter Johnson, a UC Davis grad, served as a UC Extension agent for 40 plus years in Alameda, Placer and Shasta counties. A brother and two nephews are also UC Davis grads.
As for A6093, we're all wondering where he is now. Johnson quipped that maybe the monarch needs a name instead of a number. Maybe the name of a vineyard? It's possible A6093 came from an egg or a caterpillar in a vineyard that Banke leased to Eliana Wines. "The owner has a small tasting room on the property (on Gaerky Creek Road) where the tasters can sit out and watch the monarchs," Johnson noted. The owner, determined to evoke the elegance of the wine, named his wine Eliana, which in Hebrew and Romance languages means "God has answered."
This is for certain: A6093 was born in Ashland: either in town or in a vineyard just outside of town. He was tagged and released from town.
Meanwhile, keep an eye open for WSU-tagged monarchs. Their migration will continue through Northern California to coastal California until the end of October, James said. Then in February, the monarchs will leave their overwintering sites and head inland.
Let's hope that A6093 or Eliana will be one of them.