Much of what we know about monarch biology is due to the amazing efforts of citizen scientists! There are a number of complementary projects, spanning everything from estimating monarch population sizes at California overwintering sites to documenting monarch migration and milkweed phenology. Check out the projects below to find other ways to get involved in monarch research and conservation in the US and Canada.
Please note: WMMM regularly shares data with the following programs when possible. However, we encourage all participants to submit data directly to the citizen science program they participate in. Many of these programs, including the Western Monarch Milkweed Mapper, can also be accessed through the Monarch SOS app, available through iTunes.
North American-Wide Monitoring
Integrated Monarch Monitoring Program
This monitoring program is a tri-national initiative led by the Monarch Conservation Science Partnership to monitor monarch populations and habitat throughout their breeding range. Training is recommended and protocols are available on their website. Data gathered through this effort are used to inform local, regional, and national conservation efforts.
Tracking the Monarch Migration
When do monarchs first arrive in the spring? First lay eggs?
Journey North – Monarchs
A citizen science program that allows participants to report observations of migrating monarchs to real-time migration maps. These maps also track first monarch eggs, first monarch larvae, and first emergence of milkweeds across the country.
What migration paths do monarchs take?
Tagging and monitoring program based at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, California. The program focuses on tagging monarchs at California overwintering sites to study movement between sites and spring migration.
Monarch Butterflies in the Pacific Northwest
Tagging program based in the Pacific Northwest. Online portal to post tag recoveries and other reports of PNW monarch sightings as well as share butterfly research and conservation news.
Southwest Monarch Study
Tagging program based in the Southwest. SWMS also holds workshops, monitors milkweed populations, identifies breeding habitat, and encourages establishment of monarch habitat.
Monarch Watch provides tags for the Eastern U.S.
Mapping Milkweed and Monarch Occurrences
Mission Monarch is a scientific project dedicated to monarch conservation through research, citizen science and education in Canada. Citizen scientists can participate in a Mission Monarch bioblitz to get training and monitor monarch eggs and caterpillars in the field.
Wyoming Monarchs and Milkweeds
Data gathering effort to better understand monarchs and milkweeds in Wyoming by collecting observations through the state’s WyoBio Citizen Science Initiative. Similar to the Western Monarch Milkweed Mapper, but state specific with better coverage of eastern Wyoming.
Monitoring Milkweed Stands for Phenology, Survivorship, and Parasitism
Monarch Larva Monitoring Program
The MLMP is a citizen science project of the University of Minnesota’s Monarch Lab. Volunteers in the U.S. and Canada monitor milkweed stands weekly to count monarch eggs, larvae, and pupae in order to better understand how and why monarch populations vary in time and space. Data collected from this effort have been used to determine the phenology of breeding in different areas, survivorship rates from egg to 5th instar larvae, year to year and site to site changes in monarch densities, the number of monarchs produced (on average) by a milkweed plant, and rates of parasitism.
Monitoring Overwintering Monarchs in California
The Xerces Society’s Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count
Every winter, monarch butterflies gather by the dozens, hundreds, and even thousands at more than 200 overwintering groves up and down the California coast. A dedicated group of citizen scientists monitor these groves each year, gathering information on habitat conditions and estimating population numbers. The highlight of this effort is the annual Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count (WMTC), which takes place for three weeks around the Thanksgiving holiday.
Monitoring Monarch Parasites
Project Monarch Health
Participants in Project Monarch Health help researchers monitor monarchs for the parasite Ophryocystis elektroscirrha (OE). Volunteers press a small clear sticker to monarch abdomens (procedure doesn’t harm monarchs) and then submit the samples to the project’s lab in Georgia, where they are analyzed for parasite load and added to a growing dataset of monarchs sampled across North America. To receive a free kit and participate in this effort, email firstname.lastname@example.org, their website, or follow them on Facebook at Project Monarch Health.
Rearing monarchs is not a conservation strategy for the species. However, captive rearing a few (<10) monarchs for education can be a great opportunity to see their life cycles up-close (although watching them in the wild is even better!). If you are rearing monarchs for citizen science projects such as tagging, monitoring parasites, or OE levels, you should still keep the numbers of butterflies you raise low. Never buy, ship, or move monarchs long distances. To learn more about this issue, read the blog “Keep Monarchs Wild!” and Monarch Joint Venture’s hand out “Rearing Monarchs: Why or Why Not?”.