Study Monarchs: Citizen Science Opportunities
To understand the monarch migration, we rely on the help of citizen scientists to collect data during all phases of the annual life cycle of monarch breeding, migrating, and overwintering. While measuring and studying overwintering colonies may give us the best estimate of population size, it is important to gain insight into breeding population trends and factors influencing the migration within the U.S.
Each phase of the monarch annual life cycle plays a role in the overall health and abundance of North American monarchs. To estimate the overwintering population in Mexico, staff members of the World Wildlife Fund-Mexico and Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas (CONANP) measure the area within the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve that is occupied by monarch overwintering colonies. In the U.S., however, information about the status of breeding and migration is collected by citizen scientists.
Here, we list some of the many opportunities to participate in monarch citizen science efforts in the U.S.
Tracking the Monarch Migration
The Monarch Monitoring Project, or Cape May Monitoring Project, focuses on the fall migration of monarchs along the Atlantic coast, specifically through Cape May, an important migratory stopover for east coast monarchs. Volunteers record monarchs moving through West Cape May and Cape May Point, New Jersey.
Understanding migratory and breeding patterns in Arizona and the desert Southwest is very important, since monarchs there fall between the eastern and western migratory populations. The Southwest Monarch Study tracks migration and breeding patterns of monarchs in the southwestern U.S., most notably Arizona.
To determine monarch migration routes, and weather influence and survival during monarch migrations, Monarch Watch launched a tagging program to mark individual monarchs with a unique identification. The tagging program has produced a dataset with records of over one million tagged butterflies and more than 16,000 recoveries.
Journey North is a citizen science program that focuses on migratory organisms, including gray whales, hummingbirds, American robins, whooping cranes, and monarchs. The project seeks to help scientists and the general public understand how migratory species respond to climate and changing seasons by tracking the journeys each year.
Overwintering Site Management
Another western overwintering population program, Monarch Alert, focuses primarily on sampling of overwintering clusters in San Luis Obispo and Monterey counties. To gather information on movement of overwintering monarchs along the California coast, they also support a tagging program.
The Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count is a citizen science effort to observe and collect data on monarchs overwintering along the California coast. Since 1997, volunteers have been collecting and reporting information about the status of monarchs and overwintering sites in California during the week around Thanksgiving and the week around New Year’s Day.
Monitoring Larval Populations, Habitat, and Disease
This project, set up through iNaturalist, is an effort to identify and catalog milkweeds found in national park units throughout the United States.
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is working through the iNaturalist citizen science project to track milkweeds (Asclepias spp.) throughout the state of Texas.
The WMMM is part of a collaborative effort to track monarchs and milkweeds across the Western U.S. Data contributed by citizen scientists will improve our understanding of the distribution and phenology of monarchs and milkweeds, identify important breeding areas, and help us better understand monarch conservation needs in the West.
The Integrated Monitoring Strategy is a program to monitor key monarch and habitat characteristics using spatially balanced sites across the monarch’s U.S. range. Your results will inform Eastern monarch population habitat targets, help scientists understand the threats monarchs face during the breeding season, and help to create strategies for implementing habitat enhancement. Combined with habitat management records over time, these data could also be used to assess the effectiveness of local conservation projects for monarchs.
Mission Monarch is a citizen science project dedicated to monarch conservation through better understanding the breeding habits of the butterfly in Canada. The four steps to get involved are 1) create an account, 2) find milkweed, 3) verify presence of a monarch(s), 4) submit observations.
Monarch Watch is seeking the immediate assistance of citizen scientists in collecting observations of monarchs in their area during the spring and fall. This project is an attempt to assemble quantitative data on monarch numbers at critical times during the breeding season. The data from these observations will be used to assess their value in predicting trends in the population.
General Butterfly Monitoring Programs
The Butterfly and Moth Information Network hosts a program for Lepidoptera sightings called Butterflies and Moths of North America, or BAMONA. Their website serves to provide general information about nearly 6000 species and also provides high-quality photos and identification tools.