The purpose of the tagging is to associate the location of capture with the point of recovery for each butterfly. The data from these recaptures are used to determine the pathways taken by migrating monarchs, the influence of weather on the migration, the survival rate of the monarchs, etc.
Each tagged butterfly must have a tag code (three letters and three numbers) for this system to work. To ensure that they do, we create a series of tag numbers using numbers and the alphabet. Each year receives its own unique series.
After we decide on a series of tag numbers, we send them to to be printed with waterproof ink on polypropylene sheets that have special 3M™ adhesive on the back. The printed tags are placed on a backing from which they can be easily removed. They are organized in groups of 25 consecutive numbers. The tags arrive at Monarch Watch on sheets of 25 tags per sheet.
Why do we tag Monarchs?
Many questions remain unanswered about the fall migration of the monarch population east of the Rocky Mountains. How do the monarchs move across the continent, i.e. do they move in specific directions or take certain pathways? How is the migration influenced by the weather and are there differences in the migration from year to year?
We need data to answer these questions and we need your help! Only through the cooperative efforts of volunteer taggers will we be able to obtain sufficient recoveries and observations of the migration to answer these questions. Because monarchs have a certain "charisma" and a fascinating biology and because its fun to have an excuse to collect butterflies, this project is also a good way to introduce students to science and have them contribute to a scientific study.
Through participation in this project we also hope to further interest in the conservation of habitats critical to the survival of the monarch butterfly and its magnificent migrations.
When do you tag Monarchs?
As the length of daylight shortens in mid August and September, monarchs in northern latitudes, i.e. near the Canadian border, begin to migrate. Monarchs farther south will begin their journey a few weeks later.
Tagging and monitoring should begin in late August in all regions, with a concentrated effort made in September and early October.
A GOOD RULE: when the wild asters, especially A. novae-angliae, goldenrod and Joe Pye weed are in bloom, the monarchs are migrating. In much of the lower midwest, migrating monarchs are attracted in large numbers to a tall late blooming thistle (Cirsium altissimum) several species of sunflowers and other species of Asteraceae.
Additionally, you can determine the estimated peak of the migration in your area based on latitude: Peak Migration Dates
This method has proven to be very effective - the rate of tag recovery seems to be higher than for monarchs tagged on the wing margins (an older method). The discal cell position is closer to the center of lift and gravity for the butterfly and will not impede flight. More importantly, this tagging method appears to be less harmful to the butterflies.
In 1997, we developed new all-weather polypropylene tags. They are numbered specifically for the each tagging season. The new tags are round (9mm in diameter) rather than oblong or rectangular as in previous years. The tagging method is quite simple - remove a tag from the backing, place it over the discal cell and position the balls of your thumb and forefinger over the discal cells on both side of the butterfly, press firmly for two seconds and release the butterfly after recording the tag number and other information on the datasheet.
How old do you have to be to do this?
Some teachers have expressed concern regarding the participation of young children (second graders and up) in the tagging project. As it turns out, tagging can actually be easier with the aid of very small finger tips! Some adults and teachers found that if they held the butterfly, the children were actually more adept at applying the tags than they were and we've even had reports of 4 year olds helping by learning how to identify the "boy and girl" butterflies.
How to order tags
Tags are available by buying a tagging kit. Each Monarch Watch Standard Tagging Kit includes a set of monarch butterfly tags (you specify quantity), a datasheet (which may be photocopied if necessary), tagging instructions, and additional monarch/migration information. Kits come with tags in multiples of 25, ranging from a tagging kit with 25 tags to a tagging kit with 500 tags.
If you need more than 500 tags, you should order the appropriate kits to add up to the amount desired. For example, if you need 700 tags, you should order a 500 tag kit and a 200 tag kit.
Please note, we only ship tags to areas of North America east of the Rocky Mountains. You can order tags via the Monarch Watch Shop online, by phone at 1-800-780-9986 or by faxing your order to 1-877-687-4878 (order forms available online).
Tag are purchased in kits. Each kit contains a premigration newsletter, datasheet, instructions and a multiple of 25 tags, depending on how many are ordered in that kit. You have the option of ordering kits with just 25 tags up to kits with 500 tags. If you need more than 500 tags, you will need to order multiple kits.
We begin distributing the tags in August. Northern states and Canada receive their tags first so that they will not miss any migrating Monarchs. As we distribute the tags, we record the tag numbers issued to each tagger; the tag numbers issued to each participant are entered into a database on a computer.
With tags and datasheets in hand, participants tag as many monarchs as they are able and record the date, location and other information onto their datasheets.
It is very important that participants record their name and address on each and every sheet. If you anticipate tagging more than 25 monarchs, we recommend filling in your name and address on the datasheets first and then making copies.
When data is recorded, the complete tag number should be used. Without the letter code, tracking is usually impossible. For example, last year we sent out more than 200 tags with the number series 311 but only one of these was GAA 311.
The datasheets included in the kits have directions and data examples. If a tag is recovered while tagging, it is important that the information for that tag is sent in separately. We receive thousands of datasheets each year but just one hundred or so domestic (U.S. and Canada) recoveries.
An Excel datasheet can be created and named "monarch-tagging-datasheet-2014.xls". Fill the sheet out according to the image below and save using any spreadsheet application that can open and save .xls files (Microsoft's Excel, Apple's Numbers, Apache OpenOffice's Calc, etc.). Please send the datasheet file as an email attachment to Monarch Watch at firstname.lastname@example.org
Excel Tip: You do not need to re-key all of your tag codes - just use your spreadsheet application's "autofill" feature to automatically increment all of the tag codes you need. In Excel, simply type in the first tag code, click on the cell to select it, then use the "handle" in the bottom right hand corner of the selection (the cursor will turn into a plus sign to signify autofill) to drag it down as many rows as you need. You can also do this for data you wish to duplicate (same tag location, etc.); however, if any cells contain numbers it might be better to select the cells to be duplicated, select COPY and then select all of the cells you want the data copied into and select PASTE.
If you encounter any problems with these files please let us know!
Returning the datasheets - Believe it or not, many people receive tags, tag monarchs, and record data but never return their datasheets. Every spring the Monarch Watch staff spends countless hours contacting people who have had recoveries but did not return their datasheets. The data for a recovery is lost unless we are able to verify when, where and by whom the butterfly was tagged.
As the datasheets are returned, we go through each tagging sheet and verify who received those tag numbers. If the tag numbers are incomplete, or if there is no name on the datasheet, we have to track the tags back to who received them and contact them in order to fill in this missing information (if it is even still available.) The sheets are filed in notebooks in alpha-numerical order and the information is entered into our tag database. This makes it easier to search for the tag records for recovered tags.