finally, we’re tagging!

If you’ve been reading along through the Monarch caterpillar rearing, and the chrysalises, and butterfly eclosings, you’ll know that we’ve been waiting for the arrival of tags from We’ve actually released 4 untagged butterflies so far (2 females and 2 males) as they began eclosing a couple of weeks ago. However, the tags arrived on Friday, just in time to tag Monarch #5.

A few of you have asked about the tags and tagging, so here are some photos and a description of how it’s done.

First, the tags. They come in sheets of 25. As you can see from the above photo comparing a dime to the tags, they’re very small — about the size of a punch hole in a sheet of looseleaf paper. Each tag has the email address and a 1-800 number for where anyone can report a tagged butterfly.

Along with the tags, there is a data sheet (not pictured), where each butterfly’s tag number is recorded, along with the date, location, sex, and whether the butterfly was “wild” or “reared” — caught “wild”, or raised from eggs or larvae. Today’s butterfly is a male as can be seen from the scent pouches on the hind wings (see the swollen section of vein within the yellow circle). The pouches of closely related species are a source of pheromones used in courtship. Apparently, those of the Monarch are believed to be nonfunctional, but they do help us with identification as the female does not have the same swollen section on the veins of her hind wings.

The tag is carefully applied to the discal cell on the underside of one of the hind wings (it’s the large, central cell closest to the butterfly’s body. After positioning the tag, it is pressed gently for several seconds to make it secure. The data on the tagged butterfly is recorded on the data sheet, and the butterfly may then be released. And that’s just about all there is to it. If the remainder of the chrysalises eclose successfully, we’ll probably have about 40 or so Monarchs to tag this year.

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7 Responses to “finally, we’re tagging!”

  1. Laura Says:

    Glad your tags finally arrived. Interesting – guess I thought it would be more elaborate than a sticker! Always wondered how it was done – I know a lot of monarch tagging is done in the fall by the Cape May Bird Observatory – there are days there when migrating monarchs fill the skies. Very pretty to see.

  2. robin andrea Says:

    I’m so glad you posted this. I had been wondering how you tag a butterfly. I think if I saw a butterfly with a message like that on its wing, I would have thought it had gotten into something by mistake (like a gull with a six-pack plastic ring on its foot). It would have never occurred to me that it had been tagged on purpose. So, will you ultimately find out what becomes of these monarchs? Is the plan that someone will find them and call the number and report their location?

  3. burning silo Says:

    Robin – I’m hoping that at least a few of these will be reported later this year. Apparently, there are stations where volunteers capture and check monarchs for tags during the southward migration. Aside from the monarch station volunteers, I guess that individuals frequently report butterflies if they find a tagged one — seems a little like finding a message in a bottle.
    Once a tag has been reported, it is entered into the MonarchWatch database and sometime later in the year, I should be able to do searches for the butterflies that I tagged. Over about the past decade, about 11,000 butterflies have been reported. Someone I know tagged some a year or two ago and actually had 2 or 3 reported from locations in the south. I think the odds are probably not usually that good, but maybe these that I’m releasing will be lucky, will fly far, and eventually by reported by someone. It’ll be kind of fun if that happens, but I’m not holding my breath.

  4. Peter Says:

    I see they have a tag lookup on the database, I hope you do let us know if you ever find out if one of your monarchs has been found.

    You are impressively dedicated, I’m not sure I’d have the attention span.

  5. burning silo Says:

    Peter – Yes, you can look up your tags to see if anyone has reported your tagged butterflies. I will defintely report back if any of mine are found.
    As for being dedicated. Well, at the beginning, I didn’t think it would be this much work, but it’s okay — it’s been quite enjoyable (even if a little fussy), and it’s actually quite neat to release these butterflies knowing that most of them probably never would have made it to be adults if not for the bit of work of raising the caterpillars.

  6. Laura Says:

    Thought I left a comment last night, but it seems to have vanished.

    They tag monarchs here in NJ at the Cape May Bird Observatory during the fall migration – maybe some of yours will come through here!

  7. burning silo Says:

    Laura – I finally figured out what was wrong when you tried to post. For some unknown reason, the Askimet message filter zapped your messages and pushed them into the delete folder. I’ve just moved this one back out but think I accidentally deleted another.
    I would be very curious to see where my Monarchs go when they leave here. I’m not sure what the usual pathway would be to the south, but I’m assuming they must travel over NY state and Pennsylvania, but after that, I can’t guess. I hope at least one or two will be reported this year, but I guess the odds may be slim — but then perhaps these little guys will be lucky and make it down south okay.