You’ll find several species in the butterfly garden at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, but the monarch butterfly’s brilliant orange-patterned wings stand out. For years, the monarch population was dwindling.
“There is still concern about it, but the monarchs have had several good years in a row,” said Doug Taron, chief curator at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.
Scientists keep track with tags, tiny stickers affixed to the butterflies’ wings. Tags from the northern United States have turned up at the monarch’s main roosting site in western Mexico, thousands of miles away.
“You just have to register online to order the tags. It’s a really valuable and effective method,” said Allen Lawrance, associate curator of entymology.
The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum invited NBC 5 to tag along as Taron tagged monarchs, captured the day before right in the museum garden.
“I just pinch lightly to affix the tag,” Taron said as he placed the sticker on a butterfly wing. After recording whether they’re male or female on the proper tracking paperwork, the monarch butterflies were released.
The tags don’t weigh down the monarchs, who are actually poisonous because their caterpillars only eat milkweed.
“The caterpillars incorporate the toxins and these are retained in adult monarchs. Birds learn those bright colors and learn to avoid that color pattern,” Taron explained.
The monarch’s dazzling design may have an extra spot from the stickers, that are all numbered and logged, so scientists in Mexico can mail them back to where they came from. We’ll find out if one of these tags turn up later this winter.