If you’ve read this column for any length of time, you know what my passion is besides gardening. Just last week I wrote about the monarch migration taking place right now and this week the subject is once again about my favorite butterfly. Something happened last week that was rather exciting for me and I wanted to share it with you.

For seven years now, I’ve participated in a citizen science program through Monarch Watch that involves tagging migrating monarchs in the fall. Monarch Watch is a research program organized and headed by Dr. Orley “Chip” Taylor through the University of Kansas. Through their tagging program, people like me (or you) place tiny stickers with unique identifying numbers on individual monarch butterflies in an effort to help scientists learn more about monarch behavior.

There are a number of citizen scientist programs for all sorts of things in which ordinary people like us do simple or detailed procedures and then report to an organization or university. It’s important work because studies often involve lots of data. In some instances, scientists by themselves can’t be everywhere to collect the necessary data, but we are, so they enlist our help.

The tagging program for monarchs requires that I purchase the tiny tags from Monarch Watch, with the fee for the tags not quite covering the cost of the program, but still affordable that enough people participate. Then at the end of summer, when the final generation of monarchs begins to head south to Mexico, I affix a tag to the wings of as many monarchs as I choose, or that I’m able to.

Once I’ve finished tagging, I submit information to Monarch Watch electronically. Each monarch has its own record, which includes its tag number, the date released, the location of its release, its sex, and whether the monarch was wild caught or raised.

The hope is that somewhere along the migration route and ultimately at the winter locations in Mexico, those tagged monarchs will be sighted or recovered. Live sightings almost always occur along the route. When tagged monarchs are recovered in Mexico, they are dead. Every now and then a live one with a tag is seen there, but that is extremely rare.

In Mexico, the tagged wings of the recovered monarchs are collected from the forest floor by locals. Monarch Watch pays the equivalent of about five dollars for each recovered tag and then uses the identification number on the tag to track where and when the monarch began its journey south.

Domestic recoveries and sightings are reported to Monarch Watch through their website and often also in a Facebook group called “Migrant Monarch Tag Reports.” It was in that Facebook group where I read that someone had seen one of the monarchs that I had tagged and released five days prior! This was the first time one of my tagged monarchs has been reported once it left here.

The chances of one of “my” monarchs being sighted or released are quite slim, so this was exciting. A woman had spotted him nectaring in her garden in southeast Crawford County on September 3rd. Monarch #ACAP554 had traveled approximately 115 miles in five days, averaging 23 miles per day.

That location is east and a little south of here and while migrating monarchs are supposed to travel in a southwesterly direction, weather plays a big part in how a monarch moves. I would like to see wind maps from those days to see if it’s possible that he was blown in that direction by strong winds. I suspect that most monarchs tend to zig-zag at least part of their way down to their overwintering location in Central Mexico.

Since the migration at our latitude (41°N) was just beginning at the time of my monarch’s release on August 29th, it’s possible that it isn’t a migrator. However, it would seem to me if it wasn’t, it would have stayed in this general area and not have traveled that far away from home in that amount of time. Hopefully, he’s now headed in a southwesterly direction.

It’s always been my hope that one of my tagged monarchs be found at one of the overwintering sites in Mexico, but even if that never happens, this sighting was pretty exciting too, especially since it was found to be alive and well.

There are so many things that can happen to a migrating butterfly between here and there, including being hit by a car, eaten by a predator, caught in a storm, and being unable to find enough nectar along the way to fuel the journey. Because the ones found at the overwintering sites in Mexico are dead, I choose to believe that none of mine have been recovered there because they arrived there and lived long enough to start the migration north the following spring.

Remember to keep your eyes open for the next few weeks for groups of monarchs roosting in trees overnight. Roosts can be as small as five monarchs or as large as 500 or more. If you see an overnight roost, please report it to Journey North, another citizen science program, at www.journeynorth.org. Or you can contact me at the email below and I’ll report it for you.

Read more about Kylee’s garden and nature by following her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/kyleebaumle. Contact her at PauldingProgressGardener@gmail.com.