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2021 Monarch Season

Wednesday, 20. October 2021 11:58

The monarch teams have just wrapped up a fascinating season – raising, tagging and releasing 196 monarch butterflies – 137 females and 59 males (and “no”, we have no idea why such a discrepancy between males and females – more to research! )

The monarch season in Mattapoisett started out unusually strong.  By early July, Bay Club members were remarking on the many monarchs on the course and in gardens. Our collecting and tagging teams, which hadn’t expected to be needed until August, hastily assembled, locations were picked for our three screened in enclosures and the procedures of raising the butterflies began.  And then we realized our mistake.  The butterflies we were raising were part of the generation that precedes the migrators. These were their parents.  And we learned that there is a significant difference between the two generations.  The earlier monarchs, which are slightly smaller, mate, lay eggs and die within 6 weeks.  The later ones suppress the urge to mate for 6 months(!) seek forage to build up strength for their journey, familiarize themselves with the GPS located in their two antennae and, if all goes well, do not die until after their flight to Mexico and back to Texas, some 6 months later.

But it turned out that our mistake was fortuitous. Most of our team members had had no previous experience with monarchs, let alone with feeding and tagging, so raising this early generation was just the experience we needed to prepare us for the work to come. The article Making the Bay Club into a Butterfly Waystation posted in August 2020 details the specifics of the raising experience, so we won’t repeat that information here.  But we will acknowledge two valuable byproducts of the three and a half months of concentrated effort – first, the educational benefits available to Bay Club members (and their visitors) and second, the friendships that resulted from working together to raise the butterflies.

Because of their locations, the three enclosures received a host of visitors.  Tennis and Croquet players passed by a cage every day.  Golfers finished nine holes at the Halfway Cafe cage and anyone on foot or in a golf cart on Bay Club Drive was bound to run into a team member tending to the caterpillars near Hole 17.  In their golf sessions, Pee Wee campers begged John and Ben for golf cart visits to the enclosures, where they took turns reading out loud from the Monarch Butterfly signs and trying to spot caterpillars and chrysalides on the milkweed foliage.  And some interested individuals made daily visits to look for changes.  The following was written by a young girl who lives near the 17th Hole enclosure. 

All that is left for the 2021 monarch teams is to send Monarch Watch the specifics of each of the 196 releases – the tag number, the date and location of release, and the gender of the butterfly.  Monarch Watch, a University of Kansas organization which collects monarch data from all the states East of the Rockies, maintains an arrangement with Mexicans living near the migrators’ destination – the Oxymel Fir trees in the mountains of Central Mexico.  For each tagged butterfly found in Mexico, the finder, usually a Mexican native, receives $5.  The payment provides the local villagers incentive to search for tagged monarchs and discourages the natives from lumbering the forest which is crucial to the future of the butterflies. 

In late winter 2022 Monarch Watch will post and continuously update a list of all the tagged butterflies that have been recovered.   Considering the odds against a tiny butterfly completing this journey of over 2,000 miles, it is quite a thrill to discover one’s number on that list.  Last year a Bay Club butterfly released on September 6 was discovered in El Rosario, Mexico.  Will any of ours make it again this year – who knows?

The Bay Club wants to thank everyone who participated in the 2021 Monarch Project as well as all Bay Club members for their enthusiasm and interest.

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