Monarch butterfly tagged in Kentucky, later found in Mexico

Published 6:30 pm Thursday, September 16, 2021

By Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife

A monarch butterfly tagged in Kentucky as part of a research project last October was found 1,600 miles and months later in Mexico.

Kentucky Wild member and citizen-scientist Tri Roberts, of Versailles, Kentucky, originally captured and tagged the female monarch butterfly at Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site in Perryville, Kentucky.

The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources tags monarch butterflies each fall from late August through early October. Kentucky Wild hosts an annual tagging event to help capture, tag and collect data on migrating monarchs.

Kentucky Wild is a conservation community that provides its members the opportunity to go out in the field and work side by side with researchers supporting vulnerable wildlife that face threats in the state.

Roberts has participated in several monarch experiences and workshops, including the most recent tagging day on Oct. 2, 2020, at Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site.

“I first learned of Kentucky Wild when I was renewing my fishing license several years ago,” Roberts said. “I also read an article about Kentucky Wild in an edition of Kentucky Afield magazine. I became intrigued by the Kentucky Wild mission and chose to become a member, and I’m so glad I did.”

Kentucky State Park Naturalist Robert Myers noted that Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site is home to more than 750 acres of pollinator-friendly habitat restoration. The pollinator habitat project is a collaboration between the Kentucky Department of Parks, Kentucky Fish and Wildlife, Office of Kentucky Nature Preserves and Kentucky Heritage Land Conservation Fund, Friends of Perryville Battlefield, Natural Resources Conservation Service-USDA, and the American Battlefield Trust.

After migrating south from Perryville, the monarch was recovered the following winter through the Monarch Watch tagging program. It had flown more than 1,600 miles to the El Rosario Butterfly Preserve in Michoacán, Mexico. El Rosario is the largest and most visited sanctuary within the 217-square mile Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, a World Heritage Site designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Millions of monarch butterflies in eastern North America migrate to central Mexico each fall to overwinter, clustered together in high-elevation fir forests. During this great migration, taggers throughout the monarch’s range capture and tag the butterflies. Each tag consists of a small sticker displaying a unique code, which identifies the tagged monarch and where it has traveled from in case of a recovery.

“This is a very rare and exciting occurrence,” said Michaela Rogers, an environmental scientist with Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “With the help of our partners, we have tagged more than 600 monarch butterflies in the last several years. This is our first recovery.”

This recovery marks a contribution to nearly 20 years of tagging data collected and managed by Monarch Watch, a University of Kansas-based nonprofit education, conservation and research program. Tagging data helps scientists gain a better understanding of the timing and pace of the migration, the origin and routes of traveling monarchs, changes in monarch distribution across North America, and localities that may be critical to supporting the migration.

Monarch butterfly numbers have plummeted in recent years, mirroring declines in other important pollinator species. Loss of suitable habitat is likely a key factor in these declines. Kentucky Fish and Wildlife and other conservation agencies have responded with increased efforts at education, research and habitat improvement for pollinators.  Kentucky’s Monarch Conservation Plan is a roadmap for helping this species recover with contributions from the Bluegrass State.