In its first collaboration with the Citizen Science program Monarch Watch, Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo trained volunteers to tag Monarch butterflies to learn more about the migration of the threatened butterfly. The Monarch Watch Tagging Program, based at the University of Kansas since 1992, is a large-scale citizen science project focusing on the dynamics of the monarch’s spectacular fall migration.
Zoo Educator Jen Farrell taught three online Zoom classes in Monarch tagging, then invited volunteers who wanted hands-on assistance to join her in the Zoo’s Pollinator Gardens. Twenty-five people attended the online classes and tagged butterflies in their own backyards, or local parks and open spaces.
“Tagging answers questions about the monarchs that reach Mexico,” said Farrell. “Similar to the classes we offer in FrogWatch each year, Monarch Watch encourages individuals to engage with nature, while it provides critical information to the monarch database and is used for further research. This program demonstrates how we can all play a part in protecting wildlife.”
At least ten monarchs have been tagged so far. Farrell explained that weather fluctuations have shortened the migration window this year. Monarchs prefer to migrate when temperatures are in the 60s and 70s.
Each fall Monarch Watch distributes more than a quarter of a million tags to volunteers across North America who tag monarchs as they migrate through their area. Lightweight, circular tags were designed specifically for tagging monarchs, and when applied as directed, do not interfere with flight or otherwise harm the butterflies. A geographic mark on the tag tells researchers where the monarch was captured and tagged, along with the tag date and butterfly gender.
In 2014, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was petitioned to protect Monarch butterflies under the Endangered Species Act, based on its dwindling numbers. A listing decision is due in December 2020.
Why Monarchs? Monarch butterflies contribute to the health of their eco-systems by providing an important pollination role for wildflowers in the area. They are also an important food source for birds, small animals, and other insects. Their survival is threatened by the loss of milkweed plants, where they lay their eggs. In addition, their winter habitat in Mexico and California is shrinking due to deforestation, harsh weather, climate change, and development. Because monarchs gather in only a few locations, the entire population is at risk. Learn more at monarchwatch.org.
About Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo’s Pollinator Gardens
The Zoo has seven butterfly/pollinator gardens and several other planting areas that use native plants to attract butterflies. Native plantings are also used in and around animal habitats to provide colorful flowers for guests and nectar sources for pollinators. Plants that help pollinators in more than one way are extremely helpful, such as Asclepias tuberosa (Butterfly Weed). Butterfly Weed is a native plant used throughout the life cycle of monarchs, from chrysalis through adulthood. It is also a nectar source for a wide range of other butterflies and beneficial pollinators.
About Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo
Let your curiosity run wild! Connecticut’s only zoo, celebrating its 98th year, features 300 animals representing primarily North and South American and Northern Asian species. Guests won’t want to miss our Amur tigers and leopards, maned wolf family, and Mexican grey and Red wolves. Other highlights include our new Spider Monkey Habitat, the prairie dog exhibit, and the Pampas Plain with Giant anteaters and Chacoan peccaries. Guests can grab a bite from the Peacock Café and eat in the Picnic Grove. Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo is a non-profit organization approaching its 100th year at a time when the mission of helping fragile wildlife populations and eco-systems is more important than ever.
The Zoo reopened on June 1 at 50% capacity. Tickets must be purchased on the Zoo’s website at beardsleyzoo.org. Face masks are required for everyone over the age of two, with the exception of those with medical conditions that preclude wearing them.