Our brightly colored “Migrating Monarchs,” are a common sight in Southern California. But the real question is how far do they actually go?
With so much food available locally and the milkweed along the route being less frequent, it is a high possibility that Migrating Monarchs may be more Local Los Angeles or Southern California Monarchs. But they would not be the first animal to stop its migration because of the climate. Canadian Geese have been observed to remain year round instead of migrating because of the available resources and the warm weather, and certainly many people feel the same, considering the population of California!
At the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles, researchers and citizen scientists tag the Monarchs every Saturday starting in the spring. Their hope is that with the little tags or “trackers” we can get a better idea of the range that Monarchs fly. Do our local Monarchs make that long grueling journey to Canada? To Mexico? Or do they just fly next door to the Exposition Rose Garden and retire there? In order to “track” or “tag” the Monarchs we would run, leap, walk and sneak up on the unsuspecting butterflies in the gardens. Then with a swish and a flick of the net and a flick of the wrist– and the butterfly would get be securely netted. Once the butterfly was caught we would very gently reach in and lift it out using two fingers placed on either side of its closed wing. This way we could keep the butterfly immobilized then another staff member or student would gently place a small sticker or “tag” on the lower left wing. Then we would write it down.
Even before placing that identifying tag on the Monarch we were already learning a bit about the Monarch. We would write down the condition of its wings, the coloration and if it had the tell-tale black spots on the lower wing. Those spots meant it was a male Monarch. There was so much detail and information we could obtain just by looking closer at the local Monarchs. At the Natural History Museum, they are still learning more about the local Monarchs–the question still stands do our Monarchs migrating Monarchs or are they truly Southern California locals! If you’re curious to find out or help check out the Citizen Science Programs at the Natural History Museum or take some time in the upcoming weeks to observer your own butterfly gardens/backyards. Are they locals? Or just passing through? When it comes to being a scientist, it is all up to you, and asking questions about the world around you.