Citizen Science

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.

Citizen scientist searching for eggs and larva. Photo Credit: Emma Pelton/Xerces Society.asclepias-welshii-magnified_tony-frates_flickrannabellamay-2015-linda-kappanMonitoring showy milkweed for eggs and larva. Photo Credit: Emma Pelton/Xerces Society.1098_emma-pelton_collecting-data
Photos (from left to right): Emma Pelton/Xerces Society, Tony Frates/flickr CC BY-NC-SA 2.0, Linda Kappen, Emma Pelton/Xerces Society, and Emma Pelton/Xerces Society.


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?

Monarch Alert
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.

Mapping Milkweed and Monarch Occurrences

Mission Monarch
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 WMMM 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 monarchhealth@gmail.com or visit www.monarchparasites.org. Follow them on Facebook at Project Monarch Health.