My friend and colleague, Judy Molnar, is our resident butterfly expert--in fact you might call her the "queen of butterflies." Starting in late September and going until nature runs its course (usually by the end of October or early November), Judy raises monarch caterpillars. Each caterpillar sheds its skin 5 times before turning into a chrysalis.
After about 10-14 days, the adult emerges and is ready to escape the cold of winter by migrating to Mexico. In the photo below, before releasing the butterfly, Judy places a small numbered tag on the underside of the right lower wing which identifies that specific butterfly and also lists the Monarch Watch phone number and e-mail address.
She also records data such as whether the butterfly is a male or female, and also the date, time and location where she releases the butterfly. Can you tell whether this butterfly is a male or female?
Hint: a female has thicker black lines on her wings, a male has thinner black lines, and if you look very closely, you'll see two small black dots on his lower wings. Yes, the butterfly pictured above is a male!
Once a butterfly is released, it may fly off quickly, or it might linger on the Museum grounds for a couple of days, feasting on nectar--gathering energy!--before is sets off on its incredible journey to Mexico. On average, migrating butterflies travel at about 10-15 mph for 6-8 hours each day. On a good day with favorable winds, a monarch might be able to travel up to 400 miles per day! Here's a photo of a newly tagged monarch on our Museum grounds.
Judy recommends that if you spot a tagged butterfly, take a photo of the tag then call the phone number listed on the tag or send an e-mail to Monarch Watch (based at the University of Kansas.) Your data will help scientists understand movements of migrating monarch butterflies. Because of this tagging program, scientists have learned that monarchs overwinter in various sites in Mexico. If you're interested learning about this monarch tagging program, more information can be found at the Monarch Watch website. The Journey North website is also a great site where you can learn more about monarchs as well as help contribute data as a citizen scientist. For more information about monarch tagging at the Virginia Living Museum please check out our website. Many thanks to Judy for sharing her expertise and knowledge about monarchs!
More "off the beaten path" in two weeks...