Saturday, January 06, 2007

Monarch Butterfly Tagging, Tracking Yielding Surprising Data

Farthest butterfly flight tracked was from Central Coast to Pueblo, Colorado
By: Amber Lee
Friday, January 5, 2007

Every winter, thousands of butterflies flock to the Central Coast. A Cal Poly professor uses this time to study the population and migration patterns of these small creatures.

Upon first glance at a local eucalyptus tree this month, you might think that some of the leaves are dying. But if you take a closer look, you may find that they are actually clusters of monarch butterflies.

To understand just how many of these creatures come to Pismo Beach each winter, Dr. Dennis Frey, a Cal Poly professor, started his Project Monarch Alert a few years back.

"No one had tagged butterflies from San Luis Obispo County north to Marin County," says Dr. Frey.

About 26,000 butterflies have been tagged since 2002.

The process is simple. The monarchs are caught in a net. Then, the fragile creatures are tagged by volunteers, who place a sticker with a toll-free number to its wing.

Another reason why researchers put tags on these creature is to help them track where they go from here.

The farthest location a butterfly has traveled from one of the 18 research sites here on the Central Coast is more than 900 miles, from Andrew Molera State Park in Monterey County, to Pueblo, Colorado.

"We were surprised by it," says Frey, "because the story was that monarchs did not fly eastward -- they couldn't get over the Rocky Mountains. That was a barrier to them."

As monarchs continue to flutter back to the coast each year, researchers like Frey and his helpers say it gives the team a better understanding into the lives of these delicate creatures.

Some monarch "fun facts" for you:

Five monarchs equal the weight of one penny.

The grandchildren of the butterflies already here will migrate to the Central Coast next Fall.

The monarch butterfly only lives for six weeks to eight months.

Experts say the number of monarchs that return each year has decreased due to dry weather conditions.

For more information on where you can visit nature's marvel, visit



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