Perfect time for monarch butterfly tagging

April 13, 2018

Perfect time for monarch butterfly tagging

Monarch butterflies are important pollinators, renowned for their friendliness and appearance. Photo: Supplied

The annual call is out for the public to tag monarch butterflies and help scientists understand the changing natural world, says a prominent environmentalist.

Jacqui Knight, Monarch Butterfly New Zealand Trust secretary, said the public can attach small polypropylene sticker tags, provided by the Trust and which the butterflies hardly notice, to the wings of monarchs.

Autumn is the perfect time to become involved, as after the tagged butterflies migrate for winter, members of the public who find them, can input their tag numbers into an online database.

By providing this data, the public are helping scientists understand the effect of warming temperatures and climate change on the migration patterns of butterflies.

Butterflies are an indicator species, said Ms Knight, meaning the effects of environmental issues upon them would also highlight how other species were reacting.

While it was too early to see any patterns, “over the years we can see how models and sites [of overwintering] are changing,” said Ms Knight, “It gives us a good picture of what is happening in our environment.”

But Ms Knight said “a lot of people don’t know [the tagging programming] is happening” and efforts were also needed to protect the butterflies at these sites.

Rob Jones, Forest and Bird Auckland Central chairperson, works throughout Auckland with the city council to establish natural habitats for native butterflies to flourish throughout the year.

“Butterflies are important pollinators that the public need to understand to protect in their own gardens. For example, many don’t know that different varieties of butterfly are attracted to different plants and trees,” said Mr Jones.

Without constant management, repopulating parks and gardens, like the Balmoral Heights Reserve where Mr Jones spends a lot of his time, with Red Admiral, Coppers and Long-Tail Blue can be a futile effort.

“The wasps are the butterflies’ greatest predator. Without traps for the wasps, there is no point to it,” said Mr Jones.

Ms Knight said New Zealanders are told to look after rare dolphins, whales and kiwi, yet engaging with common species in our own backyards, through the likes of the tagging programme, was also necessary.

“The monarch is like a flagship, an ambassador for the environment,” said Ms Knight, and due to their friendliness and distinct appearance, are often what first get children interested in the natural world.

Max Tweedie, the Young Greens Co-Convenor, said kiwi kids need to be taught to take every opportunity to understand and respect the environment, past just its surface level beauty.

“We do have an obligation to educate our tamariki about the environment, as a deeper level of understanding would encourage its preservation,” said Mr Tweedie.

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