Butterfly tracking programme takes flight for winter

April 10, 2019

Butterfly tracking programme takes flight for winter

Monarch butterflies are a good indicator of the environment, because of their easily-spotted wings. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

New Zealanders are keeping an eye out for tagged monarch butterflies this winter as part of a citizen science programme.

The Monarch Butterfly New Zealand Trust (MBNZT) has been tagging ‘overwintering’ monarch butterflies to find out more about their behaviour by keeping track of where they are.

A small tag on the butterflies’ wing contains a unique number which can then be reported and recorded online.

MBNZT Founding Trustee Jacqui Knight said there had been a “great response from the community”.

“[There are] more people signing up for tagging every day, despite low numbers of monarchs this season.”

Monarch butterflies aren’t afraid of humans and are easily visible. This makes them a useful ‘indicator species’ in how the environment is going.

Butterflies are pollinators which adds to their importance, said Ms Knight.

She said monarch butterflies are particularly distinguishable due to their size and brightness.

“We may not notice if there are plenty of bees around as they are often not seen, but butterflies are visible with their colourful wings.

“They are often referred to as the canaries in the coalmine.”

According to the Science Learning Hub New Zealand website, “overwintering monarchs prefer sites that are sheltered from the wind, have trees with a rough bark surface on which to cling and have a nearby source of nectar”.

The MBNZT website provides a place to report sightings of these tagged monarchs all across the country, as well as giving more information about the programme.

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