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a close up of three hands holding a monarch butterfly for tagging

Monarch butterfly tagging at Mequon Nature Preserve

October 2, 2019  |  Topics: Events

By Jamie Schiesel

Photographs by Eddee Daniel

Migrating Monarch butterflies are attracted to the Mequon Nature Preserve each September by its restored and welcoming habitat. Eager human volunteers are also attracted—by the butterflies!

a boy holding a monarch butterfly by the wings
Liam holding a monarch for tagging

On September 7th Mequon Nature Preserve held its annual onsite Monarch tagging event. This citizen science project enlists the help of volunteers both young and old to collect adult Monarchs (Danaus plexippus) that are making their way south on their migration route. In Wisconsin, we see four generations of Monarchs, the first three living and dying in the state after only two to six weeks. The fourth generation, often referred to as “super Monarchs”, live much longer at six to eight months! These are the kin responsible for making the long southern journey to Mexico.

a man walking through a field of tall grass
Searching for butterflies

Scientists and butterfly lovers alike are curious about this amazing journey, as well as the success rate of Monarchs. In North America, Monarchs have taken a steep decline in population density over the past 40 years, with estimates as high as an 80-97% drop. Because of this, efforts should be made by all nature enthusiasts to help understand and preserve these remarkable creatures. Organizations such as Monarch Watch do just that through their recruitment of citizen scientists.

a man using a bright orange net to catch a butterfly
The catch!

Tagging Monarchs involves catching them on the wing or while pollinating flowers, and then attaching a small sticker to their wing. The sticker contains identification information. Other information accompanies each sticker’s unique ID code, such as: date it was caught, location, sex, and whether it was a reared or wild specimen. This information is then submitted to Monarch Watches database to help further its research.

a man holding up an orange net with a monarch butterfly inside it
Monarch in the net

During this year’s event volunteers were able to capture and tag 25 Monarchs, double that of last year’s 13! In addition, we identified many other butterfly species on the preserve, such as Viceroys, Painted Ladies, Silver spotted Skippers, Swallowtails, and Pearl Crescents.

three hands holding a Monarch butterfly for tagging
Tagging a monarch

Mequon Nature Preserve strives to educate and involve the public with fun and scientifically relevant projects and looks forward to next year’s tagging!

girl with a big smile holding a tagged monarch butterfly by the wings
Ella with her tagged monarch


a man with a baseball cap and sunglasses holding a monarch butterfly
Jamie holding a monarch for tagging
people observing a man as he tags a monarch butterfly
Jamie tagging as volunteers look on
The release
a woman watches with delight as a butterfly is released
MNP Exec. Director Kristin Gies watches a released monarch
an open palm holding a tiger swallowtail butterfly
Other butterfly species caught include this tiger swallowtail
a tiny green tree frog perched atop a hand
This tiny tree frog was another find
a man with two butterfly nets far away in a large field
Ranging widely in search of butterflies
a man holding up two nets that contain monarch butterflies
Two at once!
Mother and daughter bonding with a butterfly
a young girl with a smile as a hand holds out a monarch butterfly
Liza likes it!

Jamie Schiesel is an Educator at the Mequon Nature Preserve.

Eddee Daniel is a board member of Preserve Our Parks.

The Mequon Nature Preserve is a project partner of A Wealth of Nature.