Monarch butterfly tagged in Kentucky research project discovered 1,600 miles away in Mexico

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, originally captured and tagged the female monarch butterfly at the Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site in Perryville.

The Kentucky Department of Fisheries and Wildlife 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 member and citizen scientist Tri Roberts initially captured and tagged the female monarch butterfly at the Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site in Perryville. (Photo by KDFWR)

Kentucky Wild is a conservation community that offers its members the opportunity to go out into the field and work alongside 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 October 2 at the Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site.

“I first heard of the Kentucky Wild when I renewed my fishing license several years ago,” said Roberts. “I also read an article on the Kentucky Wild in an edition of Kentucky Afield magazine. I was 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 the Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site is home to more than 750 acres of restored pollinator-friendly habitat. 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 thanks to Monarch Watch’s tagging program. He had traveled over 1,600 miles to the El Rosario Butterfly Reserve in Michoacán, Mexico. El Rosario is the largest and most visited sanctuary in 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 from eastern North America migrate to central Mexico each fall to spend the winter, clustered in high-altitude fir forests. During this great migration, markers from across the range of the monarch capture and mark butterflies. Each tag consists of a small sticker displaying a unique code, which identifies the tagged monarch and where it traveled from in the event of recovery.

“This is a very rare and exciting event,” said Michaela Rogers, environmental specialist at Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “With the help of our partners, we have tagged over 600 monarch butterflies in recent years. This is our first cover.

This recovery marks a contribution to nearly 20 years of tagging data collected and managed by Monarch Watch, a nonprofit education, conservation, and research program based at the University of Kansas. Tagging data helps scientists better understand the timing and rate of migration, the origin and routes of itinerant monarchs, changes in the distribution of monarchs in North America, and localities that may be critical in sustaining the migration.

The number of monarch butterflies has fallen in recent years, reflecting the decline of other important pollinator species. The 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 in education, research and habitat improvement for pollinators. The Kentucky Monarch Conservation Plan is a roadmap to help this species recover through contributions from the State of Bluegrass.

Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife

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