Tagging Monarch Butterflies

Monarch Butterfly Migration Pictures

This is the first year I have participated in tagging Monarch Butterflies for the annual migration to Mexico.

monarch butterfly migration

Monarch Butterfly tags (small, circular stickers) can be ordered only from Monarch Watch, the organization which coordinates the tagging of Monarch Butterflies.

August 1st is when they start sending out the Monarch tags. It takes a couple of weeks to get your packet, so order early.

(left) Here is a picture of the packet Monarch Watch sends for tagging Monarch Butterflies. It includes tags, a tally sheet and instructions.

In Minnesota, where I live, Monarchs start "thinking" about migrating in mid-August.

I had some Monarchs I was raising emerge about the 2nd or 3rd week of August. I'm quite sure these were migrating Monarch Butterflies. I did not have my tags yet, so couldn't tag these butterflies. Order early....

On an August 31st trip to our local arboretum, I discovered many Monarch butterflies sipping nectar on liatris, a "Monarch Magnet", in the "native prairie" area (below right).

I had brought my Monarch tags with me. It was quite easy to "catch" the Monarchs on the flowers and then tag them.Here is the technique I used tagging Monarch Butterflies:

  • Prepare the tag by taking a toothpick and slipping it underneath the edge of the small tag and loosening it from the paper.

  • Come up behind the Monarch (best after they have been nectaring for a while and are focused on the flower).

  • With my thumb on one side of the closed wings and index finger on the other side gently take hold of the butterfly wings

  • Gently pull them from the flower...usually they have a good hold on the flower.

  • Take the toothpick with tag and place the tag on the exact spot of the wing recommended by Monarch Watch.

  • Hold the sticker and butterfly, gently removing the toothpick ("rolling" it off the sticker).

  • Gently apply pressure to both sides of the butterfly wings to secure the tag.

  • If you do not know whether the butterfly is a male or female, gently lift the wing and check.

  • Release the butterfly for it's trip to Mexico!

  • Record the information on tally sheet....date, location, wild or raised, male or female.

This may seem complicated, but it isn't. It went very fast, once I got the hang of it.

It is also possible to use a butterfly net to catch the Monarchs and follow the same steps as above. Make sure and have a large enough butterfly net (12" wide, 24" deep) so you can fold the handle over and not harm the butterfly in the net.

Observe the life cycle of the monarch butterfly up close by raising your own Monarchs. Then you can tag the monarchs that you actually raised! After the butterfly has emerged and the wings are dry (a couple of hours) follow the above directions on tagging Monarch Butterflies.

Check out more information on the monarch butterfly migration.

A word of warning....the percentage of tags that are actually found in Mexico is quite small. But you never know....maybe yours will be one!!

Monarch Watch gives you instructions on where to send your tagging information. Then you can check this link for tag findings. It seems it takes a while to input the information on the website, so be patient.

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