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Tracking the Monarch Migration with Citizen Science

Sep 15, 2016


  • Community Science

As fall comes into full swing and the monarchs make their way south, many volunteers are contributing to the citizen science opportunities with monarchs. To understand the monarch migration, researchers rely on the help of citizen scientists to collect data during all phases of the annual life cycle of monarch breeding, migrating, and overwintering. While measuring and studying overwintering colonies may give us the best estimate of population size, it is important to gain insight into breeding population and migratory trends and factors influencing monarch populations. Each phase of the monarch annual cycle plays a role in the overall health and abundance of North American monarchs. Understanding their life cycle and population dynamics will inform conservation efforts to preserve the monarch migration for years to come. You can help researchers better understand the migration by getting involved in a citizen science project this fall.

Journey North is a citizen science program that focuses on migratory organisms, including gray whales, hummingbirds, American robins, whooping cranes, and monarchs. The project seeks to help scientists and the general public understand how migratory species respond to climate and changing seasons by tracking the journeys each year. During the fall monarch migration, Journey North collects reports of roosting monarchs, peak migration events, fall breeding monarchs, or any adult monarch sighting. All sightings are included on Journey North’s real-time maps, which paint a picture of how the migration is moving through the U.S from year to year. Check this year’s map to see when the migration is coming to you!

Monarch tagging is how the monarch migration was discovered. In fact, it was 7th graders in Chaska, Minnesota that tagged the first butterfly to ever be recovered in Mexico, proving not only the remarkable distance covered by these tiny creatures, but that anyone can take part in scientific discovery through citizen science. Monarch Watch now runs the tagging program for the eastern monarch population to determine monarch migration routes and weather influence and survival during the fall migration. In the West, programs like the Southwest Monarch Study are involving the public in tracking the migration and breeding patterns of monarchs in the less understood western monarch population.

Finally, if you have been monitoring milkweed or monarchs this spring and summer for the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project, don’t forget to log your results. If you missed the migration in your area this year, plan ahead to monitor monarchs during the breeding season and fall migration of 2017!

Visit our website to find out more about these programs and other citizen science projects near you.


The Monarch Joint Venture is a national partnership of federal and state agencies, non-governmental organizations, and academic programs working together to conserve the monarch butterfly migration. The content in this article does not necessarily reflect the positions of all Monarch Joint Venture partners. Header photo by Wendy Caldwell.