Before release, each butterfly was carefully tagged.

“Godspeed” is what I bid to all the flocks overhead these fall days on their way to southern climes. It’s the word I whispered to the just-tagged monarch butterfly sitting on my hand.

September 8 came as a cool morning in the 60s but with the promise of a warm sunny day. It was a perfect time to be at Long Lake Conservation Center to tag a few monarch butterflies. I attended a monarch butterfly session led by Chris Hagen and Pam Brand on June 17, one of a small group there to learn more about this amazing butterfly. After an introduction to its life cycle and the different types of milkweed, we searched the area for tiny white eggs on the underside of milkweed leaves. In preparation, we also helped cover the monarch hatching nursery with screening. Then we waited patiently for the date when the butterflies would be out and ready for tagging, usually the latter part of August.

Throughout the summer, staff and volunteers brought monarch caterpillars to the nursery where they fed on milkweed plants. This day many chrysalises hung from the wooden supports, just hours or a few days from hatching. With two fingers making a “scissors” to hold the butterfly’s wings together, Chris gently transferred a monarch to my waiting scissored fingers. She then handed me a quarter-inch round white tag with a special 3M adhesive that I pressed firmly for several seconds to the underside of the monarch’s hind wing. Afterward the butterfly was content to sit on my hand; then with tiny feet barely perceptible, it walked up my arm to my shoulder and settled on the back of my head where it stayed while I tagged a second monarch. This one I placed on a nearby swamp milkweed plant in the sun. These two monarchs would be joining a multitude of others on their flight to Mexico.

Information from the tags was logged onto the 2016 Monarch Watch tagging data sheet indicating WLJ 555 and 556, male and female, were reared and tagged at Palisade. If these butterflies are found, the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kan., can be contacted at 1-800-TAGGING for the information in their data base, which will show the tag code, date, male/female, reared/wild. Long Lake has been tagging since 2012 and has increased from 25 tags the first couple of years, to 50 tags and now plans to expand to 100.  

Monarch Watch started in the fall of 1992. The purpose of tagging is to associate the location of capture with the point of recovery for each butterfly. The data from these recaptures is used to determine the pathways taken by migrating monarchs, the influence of weather on the migration and the survival rate of all monarchs. Many recovered tags come from monarchs found dead along highways. Of those tags recovered in 2015, the majority were from El Rosario, Sierra Chincua and Macheros Cerro Pelon in Mexico.

I appreciated the time Chris and Pam enthusiastically shared with me that morning. They’ve both been actively involved in Long Lake’s monarch tagging program. Chris, who’s been a cook for 40 years, came to Long Lake from Minneapolis in 1996. Pam volunteered at Rice Lake Wildlife Refuge and Long Lake before becoming a seasonal naturalist. Certified as a Minnesota master naturalist in 2009, she has been part-time staff since 2011.

Visitors are welcome at the Long Lake Conservation Center and invited to check out the monarch nursery as well as Pam’s laminated poster showing a detailed monarch’s life cycle in vivid color. Though it may be too late for this year’s hatch and tagging, look for information next spring on the Community Education’s calendar and in the Age. I highly recommend the experience to all wildlife enthusiasts!

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