Thursday, December 22, 2011

Monarch Butterfly From Chandler, AZ Flies to Kino Bay, Sonora, MX

Female monarch nectaring on Asclepias subulata
Fall in the Phoenix area is an exciting time to watch a new monarch butterfly emerge from its chrysalis. It takes several hours for its wings to harden to be able to fly. As the season progresses, sometimes I wait until the following day before tagging them with the blue tag of the SW Monarch Study and sending them on their way. So on November 19 that is just what I did. The day before a beautiful female monarch was born and on the 19th I affixed tag #60061 to her wing and wished her well on her journey. She stayed around feeding on the nectar of flowers in my garden for a few days and then left my yard like over 100 other monarchs before her. I always wonder, where will this one go? The SW Monarch Study has learned that monarch butterflies migrating through Arizona fly to both the overwintering sites in Mexico and also to the coast of California. But despite tagging thousands of monarchs, very few have ever been recovered.

On Wednesday, December 14, Gail Rochlin of Tucson was enjoying her condo in Kino Bay, Sonora, Mexico. She saw a monarch nectaring on a plentiful bank of flowering bouganvillea. Gail spotted a blue tag and was able to read the number #60061 and contacted me. Little did I know at the time this monarch came from my own backyard. You can see where #60061 flew on the map of the SW Monarch Study recoveries.

Gail Rochlin learned about the Southwest Monarch Study at a talk I gave at the Tucson Botanical Garden in Tucson last year. So when she saw the blue tag, she immediately emailed me. I was excited to hear of a recovery in Mexico - then thrilled when I learned this monarch came from my own backyard!

It is unusual to see a monarch migrate so late in the season. Migration is influenced by temperature and celestial orientation (sun angle) as well as other cues. Most monarchs stop their migrational movement by the first week of December so it is likely this female had been in the Kino Bay area for the past week. The celestial influence decreases by the end of November, although exactly when is unclear. We looked at the temperatures, wind speed and direction from the time #60061 was tagged in Chandler through the beginning of December and could find nothing that would push her to Kino Bay nor draw her there. The cool temperatures during the time period would likely keep this butterfly in reproductive diapause, common for migrating monarch butterflies during the winter months. Gail Rochlin said this monarch was in good condition when she spotted her. A breeding monarch would likely have faded wings by this time from laying eggs under the leaves of milkweed plants in the area. A special thank you to Dr. Chip Taylor of Monarch Watch for his keen educator questions to help us understand a little more about this unique recovery. He also pointed out that the route this monarch flew was very rugged and likely offered little nectar along the way.

Male monarch nectaring on tithonia
If you would like to create a Monarch Waystation in your yard, pick up a copy of the January issue of Phoenix Home and Garden magazine. Our monarch haven is the backyard garden feature for the month. You can also see a shorter version of the article in this link: Phoenix Home & Garden Monarch Garden If you create a milkweed banquet, the monarchs will come!


  1. This is so very cool! And I am so glad I read about you in Phoenix Home and Garden magazine. A whole new world I knew nothing about.

    One question. How do you keep a newly hatched butterfly around until its wing can be tagged?

  2. Hi Anneke,
    Glad you are excited as we are! There are two ways. One is to let them eclose from their chrysalis in a container like a zipped tall mesh laundry basket. After they are ready to fly it is easy to tag them and release. Or, if they are flying you can catch them with a butterfly net. If you are interested in learning how we do this, be sure to join us on a monarch tagging trip when we are in SE Arizona in September. We often are in Santa Cruz county and would be thrilled to have you join us. Thanks for your note! Gail