Cooler September temperatures encourage green leaves to show off their fall colors. But before we start to see orange leaves floating down from the sky here in Kansas City, we’ll see the delicate orange wings of Monarchs flutter, dip, and glide through the breezes on their migration to the southern U.S. and Mexico. In mid-late September you may notice more and more Monarchs feasting on your flowers and you may find yourself dodging butterflies as they careen over your windshields.

The potential 3,000-mile Monarch butterfly journey is fascinating. Most butterflies live for 2-4 weeks, while summer’s 5th generation of Monarchs produce a Super Generation that can live for up to nine months. This gives them enough time to migrate to Mexico, cluster and rest in cool evergreen forests during our mid-west winter, and then fly far enough north again in the spring seeking milkweed to lay their eggs in the southern United States.

Over the last several years, scientists have noticed that the number of Monarchs over-wintering in Mexico’s Oyamel fir forests have been declining. Climate change and other habitat changes like shrinking wildlands and pesticide & herbicide use in America and deforestation in Mexico have challenged the Monarch from egg to butterfly. Citizen Science projects help track the pathways and perils of the Monarchs and provide scientists with information that can help improve Monarch conservation.

photo by Ron Tilman

The Education Specialists at Schlagle Library participate in the University of Kansas Monarch Watch tagging program each year. Each September, Monarch Watch sends about 60 baby caterpillars to the library where the Education Specialists provide fresh milkweed for the caterpillars until they form their chrysalises. After the adult Monarchs emerge, they are tagged for tracking and released into the wild to make their way to Mexico. The library shares the release of the butterflies during their annual Butterfly Festival and with area schools that come out for butterfly festival school field trips. You can also participate in this citizen science project!

There are multiple citizen science projects on Monarchs that you can participate in throughout the year. In the spring, you can begin reporting Monarch sightings with the Monarch Calendar Project, sponsored by Monarch Watch. In the spring you will be seeing some of the first generation of Monarchs from eggs laid by the Monarchs that migrated the previous fall. In your summer recordings, you’ll be seeing the last generations, including the Super Generation that migrates south.

photo by LuAnn Cadden

Journeys and migrations are challenging endeavors! The University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum offers a Journey North project that tracks the migration path of the butterflies as well as the journeys of songbirds, American Robins, hummingbirds, Bald Eagles, frogs, flowers, and even whales. The University of Wisconsin-Madison also partners with the University of Minnesota in the Monarch Larval Monitoring Project (MLMP). Many citizen science projects can be done easily on your own, but the MLMP does require online or in-person training to hone your observation and research skills.  

Now that you have some projects to explore, take flight and become a citizen scientist!