Posted by: csdailyblog | August 31, 2010

Conserve Students Tag and Test Monarch Butterflies

The tag on this Conserve School butterfly will help researchers study monarch migration.

In the last few decades, monarch populations have dropped precipitously. Scientists suspect that both climate change and parasites are playing a role in this continued decline. As a result, several universities have begun monarch citizen monitoring research programs, through which schools, clubs, and individuals all around the country can contribute to the research effort and, perhaps, help stem the rapid decrease in monarch numbers. Conserve School participates in monarch studies run by the University of Minnesota, the University of Georgia, and the University of Kansas. Click on the links to take a look at their websites if you’d like to learn more about these programs.

Conserve School students and staff collect monarch caterpillars in the school garden, raise them in rearing chambers, observe them for parasite activity, tag them, take samples, and keep records to send to university labs. The accompanying photos show students Emma and Katie as they tag and test a monarch that emerged in one of our rearing chambers on Monday.

Mary Anna

Emma holds a monarch while Jean, at left, Conserve School Stewardship Coordinator, and Fran, Graduate Fellow Program Coordinator, explain how to test the monarch for microscopic parasites.

Katie tests the monarch by pressing clear adhesive plastic against its abdomen. The plastic picks up scales and, if they are present, parasite spores. Students sanitize their hands and wear gloves while taking samples so that they do not inadvertently spread the spores or contaminate the samples.

While Emma holds the monarch, Katie presses the adhesive plastic, which now carries a "print" of the monarch's abdomen, on to a card that will be sent to the University of Georgia for analysis.

Emma places a tiny numbered tag on the monarch's wing. We record the tag numbers, along with when and where each monarch was collected, and send the information to University of Kansas researchers. If the butterfly is caught during the migration process, researchers will use the data for their studies and also post the information online to let us know how far our monarch traveled.

Testing and tagging completed, Katie and Emma are ready to release the monarch in our butterfly garden.

A tagged butterfly rests on vervain in the Conserve School butterfly garden.



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  2. Emma, remember when you found the monarch caterpillars on the logging road and you took them home in a jar and watched them make cocoons and hatch into butterflies in your bedroom and then let them go out the window? i think you were 10 then.

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