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Great migrations

Ringgold County Conservation host monarch tagging event to track butterfly migration

Braden Johnson of Creston stands still as a monarch butterfly crawls on his nose Saturday at Ringgold County Conservation's monarch tagging event. During the event, participants learned about the monarch's life and migration cycles and set out to capture a few, which were tagged with stickers for research purposes and released.
Braden Johnson of Creston stands still as a monarch butterfly crawls on his nose Saturday at Ringgold County Conservation's monarch tagging event. During the event, participants learned about the monarch's life and migration cycles and set out to capture a few, which were tagged with stickers for research purposes and released.

Those monarch butterflies appearing right now in Iowa have a long trip ahead of them. To help track their migration, dozens of volunteers assisted Ringgold County Conservation by “tagging” the tiny creatures Saturday at Fife’s Grove Park near Mount Ayr.

“Tagging is important because it not only helps us keep track of their population, but it helps us keep track of their (migration) routes and where we need to put more pollinating sites for them on their trip, north and south,” said Kate Zimmerman, director of Ringgold County Conservation.

The monarchs are currently starting their migration from a variety of prairies and grasslands in North America to Mexico, which takes them thousands of miles to warmer climates, where they spend their winter months before returning in the spring.

Zimmerman said for every 500 eggs a female monarch butterfly lays, an average of six eggs will make it to adulthood. Of the 200 to 250 captured, tagged and released every year by Ringgold County Conservation employees and volunteers, only two or three get picked up in Mexico the following spring.

“It takes a lot to get a few down there,” said Zimmerman.

“Things like mowing, spraying and predators can prevent them from living through their entire life cycle,” said Zimmerman.

Monarch butterflies are important to conservationists for a number of reasons. Their presence represents a healthy environment and ecosystems, and indicate a wide range of other invertebrates (species that do not develop spinal columns, which make up more than two-thirds of all species). Monarchs are also beneficial to the environment as they are natural pollinators and help provide pest control.

According to the National Parks Service (NPS), U.S. Department of the Interior, monarchs are experiencing significant threats to their survival – loss of milkweed plants, deforestation and loss of winter habitats resulting from climate change. Over the last decade, the NPS claims climate change has brought more out-of-season storms, severe temperature drops and excessive rain, which are negatively affecting the monarch butterfly population.

Tagging

After Zimmerman explained the development, and the types of plants and environments necessary for the monarchs’ survival, she demonstrated the tagging process and distributed nets to the participants.

“Of course we have to know all of the information that needs to go on this tag,” said Zimmerman.

Each tag, no larger than a pinky nail, is labeled with a unique serial number, a website, program name and phone number. As participants collect and tag the Monarchs, they are required to write down the date, serial number, if the monarch is wild or reared (raised in captivity) and if it is male or female. Zimmerman explained that male monarch butterflies have two black dots on each of its bottom wings.

Ringgold County Conservation

The monarch tagging event is hosted annually by Ringgold County Conservation. For more program information, follow Ringgold County Conservation Board on Facebook or for information specific to the monarch migration and tagging program, visit www.monarchwatch.org.

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