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September 20, 2018

Cold temperatures and brisk winds didn’t lessen the enthusiasm of the “citizen scientists” who turned out to our Monarch Butterfly Tagging event on Saturday September 8th. A crowd of approximately 150 showed up at the stretch of parkland along Lakeview Drive in the Port of Newcastle to assist the Samuel Wilmot Nature Area Advisory Committee (SWNA) in capturing, tagging and releasing monarch butterflies as they begin their long migration to Mexico. This is the second year that the group has organized a tagging event, which is likely to become an annual undertaking.

Led by Conservation Biologist Dr. Tom Hossie, an Assistant Professor at Trent University and member of the SWNA Advisory Committee, the event has generated a great deal of interest. Those who attended heard a brief commentary from Dr. Hossie about monarch biology and migration and received instructions on how to safely “capture” the monarchs using nets provided by the Committee, GRCA and Trent University. Several of Dr. Hossie’s graduate students from Trent volunteered their time to provide additional technical expertise. Forty five nets were available for the public to use and they were all signed out within minutes, then signed out again by others as soon as they were  returned. One participant made a quick side trip to a local store and purchased an additional half dozen children’s nets which she later donated to the organizing committee!

Monarch Tagging Pic 2

The somewhat unseasonal weather did affect the number of butterflies that were captured and tagged. A total of 107 were processed between approximately 10:15 a.m. and 1:00 p.m., compared to just over 200 in 2017. But this does not mean that there are fewer butterflies this year, only that the cooler temperatures made them less active. (The stiff breeze also meant that those that were out and about were harder to catch!) Indeed, many people have commented on the large numbers they have seen in recent days. The scientific consensus is that 2018 is as good a year, if not better, for monarch numbers than last year, which was considered exceptional.

Monarch Tagging Pic 3

The population of monarch butterflies has declined dramatically in the past 25 to 30 years due to habitat loss at their wintering grounds in Mexico, pesticide use and the destruction of milkweed, the only food source for monarch larvae. But numbers have been improving in recent years, thanks in large part to the efforts of communities and volunteer organizations such as the SWNA Committee who have committed a great deal of time and effort to promote awareness of the plight of monarchs at workshops and information sessions, who have planted large amounts of  milkweed and other pollinator plants, and who have organized tagging events such as this one.

“There is a growing awareness that we can all make a difference.” said SWNA Advisory Committee Chair Brian Reid.  “Hands-on on activities such as this tagging event are a great way to get the public, and particularly our children, involved. The look of wonder on a child’s face as a butterfly that he or she has caught is carefully tagged and then released is priceless.”

Committee members will continue the tagging process over the next 2-3 weeks and anticipate reaching the mark of 500 that was attained last year.

The Samuel Wilmot Nature Area Advisory Committee would like to express its appreciation  to the Rotary Club of Bowmanville whose financial donation earlier this year allowed the Committee to purchase professional nets, to the Ganaraska Region Conservation Authority and the biology department of Trent University for their loan of additional nets, and to all the organizers and participants who made this event a success!  See you again next year!

Monarch Tagging Pic 4

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