Tracking the Monarchs with a Tracking Device

Every year, monarch butterflies migrate more than 2,000 miles to overwinter in warmer climates in Mexico and Southern California. Sadly, these majestic creatures are plummeting toward extinction due to habit threats and global climate change. Finding out how and why monarch butterflies travel might be one way to help their decline in population. One student is taking the threat very seriously.

Kelsey Fisher, a Ph.D. entomology student at Iowa State University, wants to find out how far monarchs can smell and see by using tracking devices. This way, when milkweed is planted, the monarchs will be able to find it and use it. Since the monarchs weigh about half a gram, and the transmitters weigh a quarter of a gram, their flight is not affected.

The monarchs were tested in a two-acre field that was filled with milkweed. There were four towers set up on the corners to sense and calculate the butterflies movements. The next test will be in a field with no milkweed, so Fisher plans to bring in her own milkweed to see how the monarchs find it. Fisher wants to look at the big movements in flight so we know where the butterfly will go next when there are no resources.

By tracking monarch activity, we can restore milkweed to the land that will help save them. Since milkweed is the only source of food for monarch caterpillars, it is essential for their survival. You can help by planting native milkweed in your own garden. Not only will you enjoy seeing the painted orange and black creatures in your garden, you will be helping to perpetuate the species.

At Monarch Flyway, we envision fields of biodiverse prairies supporting the monarch migration and innovative products made from intact ecosystems through market based conservation. As the uses for sustainably sourced milkweed increase, so will monarch habitat, making the migration easier to complete. We look forward to seeing even more scientists working on ways to improve habitat and support the efforts of market based conservation.