October is peak migration month for millions of Monarchs flying through the “Texas funnel” to overwinter in their ancestral roosts in Michoacan, Mexico. As the Monarchs flutter through the Raincatcher’s Garden, we have also had another visitor— one with a butterfly net.
Master Naturalist Ellen Guiling frequently visits the butterfly garden to capture and tag Monarchs. Ellen hovers by the Greg’s Mistflower, then her butterfly net swooshes and snaps to flip the net sock around the circle of the rim to prevent the butterfly’s escape. She gently folds the Monarch’s wings closed in the net then reaches in to hold the butterfly’s body and remove it. It takes seconds to press a Monarch Watch tag on the discal cell, a spot on the middle of the lower wing.
She quickly checks the sex of the captured Monarch. Two small black dots on the veins of the lower wings signal that this male with his pheromone sacks is probably quite the favorite with the lady Monarchs. Released into the intense October skies, the Monarch flutters back to the Greg’s Mistflower, ready for his trip south.
Ellen has tagged about 40 Monarchs this fall at Raincatcher’s. After recording the date, location and complete tag numbers with other information, Ellen will send her data sheet to Monarch Watch at monarchwatch.org, the organization that helps create, conserve and protect Monarch habitats. Tagging data by volunteers has been critical in mapping Monarch migration patterns. Scientists study the tagging results to answer unanswered questions about Monarch migration, such as whether migration is influenced by the weather and if there are differences in migration from year to year.
Pictures by Starla
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