Citizen Science

Help Monarch Butterfly Conservation through Citizen Science Monitoring

The monarch (Danaus plexippus) migration is one of the most awe-inspiring phenomenon in nature and may serve as an indicator of the health of our environment and the well-being of Earth. Become part of a growing citizen science effort in North America to help monitor the status of the monarch.

Wild for Monarchs

Wild Ones and its partners through the Monarch Joint Venture (MJV) invite you to become a citizen scientist. Volunteer through our Wild for Monarchs campaign today!

Citizen scientists are volunteers who help professional researchers collect data that guide scientific and conservation efforts.

Through scientific research and monitoring, we can better understand monarch biology, population trends, diseases, and habitat availability – factors that may influence the monarch’s decline.

All ages and experience levels have the opportunity to get involved! Resources and guidance are provided free of charge for each program. There may be a small supply cost for individual programs, such as the purchase of tags. The main investment is your time. 

Check out the video of Karen Oberhauser training Wild Ones members “How to be a Citizen Scientist.”

Described below are five programs which focus on habitat and research related to monarch migration preservation. The first is a simple native plant garden recognition program, while the remaining four focus on citizen science research programs. Read through each description to determine which program matches your interests and availability. Then decide to participate in one or more today!

Wild Ones members are happy to help you get started. Contact a nearby Wild Ones Chapter for more information. Download a copy of Wild Ones’ Citizen Science Brochure.

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Butterfly Garden artwork

Wild for Monarchs Native Butterfly Garden/Habitat  Recognition Program

Register your native plant garden or habitat and become part of the Wild Ones national wildlife corridor.

Wild for Monarchs Native Butterfly Garden Recognition Program

We invite you to join Wild Ones to help support monarch butterflies and plant a native plant garden or habitat with milkweed and a variety of nectar plants that bloom through the season. Help us develop a map of Wild Ones wildlife corridors. When your garden is established (minimum of two years old) and contains 75% native species, complete the online registration form and Wild Ones will recognize it as a native plant butterfly habitat. If your butterfly garden is already certified as a Monarch Watch Waystation (MW), or by the North American Butterfly Association (NABA), and your garden meets the Wild Ones native species guidelines, the registration process is streamlined by a preregistered short-form application.
Your seasonal monarch migration and habitat observations will be included on real-time maps on-line as part of global education program.

Journey North

Each fall and spring, report your sightings to help track the migration as monarchs travel to and from Mexico. Your reports will be compiled with the reports of other citizen scientists and can be viewed on interactive maps. Highlights of weekly monarch activity will be available in news updates from Journey North (JN).You will observe and report:

  • 1st Monarch adult butterfly sightings of the year; include wind, weather and habitat.
  • 1st spring milkweed to emerge in your area; monarchs will arrive soon after.
  • 1st monarch egg found on milkweed; the monarchs have arrived.
  • 1st monarch larva seen; in just weeks, they will develop into adult butterflies of the next generation.
  • Fall monarch migration; report any monarch adults you see in the fall
  • Roosting monarchs; report gatherings of fall migrating monarchs in the evening. These roosts generally occur in trees overnight.

Help track the fall monarch migration by placing coded tags on the wings of wild caught or reared monarchs.

Monarch Watch/Tagging Migration

Information from the recovered tags is used to estimate the size of the fall population, determine mortality during the migration, and establish the origins, timing and pattern of the migration. These data are used to answer fundamental questions about the dynamics of the migration. To date, over 1.2 million monarchs have been tagged and more than 16,000 have been recovered.

Watch an instructional video from Monarch Watch Director and Wild Ones Honorary Director Chip Taylor on how to tag monarchs

Monarch Watch (MW) tagging kits with numbered tags and instructions are available from the Monarch Watch Shop.

Here’s what you’ll do:

  • Plan to begin tagging early August in the north and continue through October
  • Record on the datasheet:  the tag code for each butterfly along with sex, wild-caught or reared, date, location and tagger name
  • Send the recorded information to MW
  • Check the MW website each spring for postings about recovered tags. You may also be notified by e-mail.

Observe the monarch life cycle. Collect long-term data on eggs, caterpillars (larvae), adults and milkweed habitat. May study parasitism rates.

Monarch Larva Monitoring Project

The goals of this project are to better understand how the monarch breeding population changes throughout the season and from year to year.

MLMP data are used to inform monarch conservation efforts.

  • You will learn to:
  • Collect data on monarch eggs and larvae in a monarch habitat site of your choice.
  • Estimate milkweed density and describe the habitat site
  • Report observations to be used in real scientific studies
  • Report data online and visualize monarch activity at your monitoring site(s) via monarch density graphs
  • Compare your observations with those of other citizen scientists

Training sessions are available. Project information is available through on-line training videos. Datasheets for recording observations are available on-line. Additional monitoring materials and supplies can be purchased through the Monarch Lab Store.

Assist by sampling and collecting data to help track the spread of the Monarch butterfly protozoan parasite in North America.

Monarch Health/Parasites

Host-parasite interactions can be important drivers of many populations, including monarchs. The goal of this project is to track rates of infection by a debilitating monarch parasite throughout the monarchs’ range.

You will help to:

  • Track the prevalence of the protozoan parasite Ophryocystis elektroscirrha (OE)
  • Test monarchs for OE, a simple procedure that involves pressing tape to the monarch’s abdomen. This does not harm the monarch.
  • Enhance awareness of monarch biology and conservation
  • Understand how non-native milkweed, especially Asclepias curassavica, and changes in climate, affect monarch/OE interactions.

Sampling involves capturing or raising adult monarchs and testing them for OE. Contact Monarch Health at the University of Georgia to order a sampling kit.