Monarch butterflies have experienced a steady decrease in population size for the past 20 years, putting the future of a species and a phenomenon at risk.
The phenomenon at risk is the monarch’s migratory behavior, which makes them unique in the butterfly world.
Every year, around the beginning of October, monarchs begin to make the long trek south towards Mexico and the California coast where they roost.
But the same factors threatening monarch populations also pose the risk of disrupting their winter homes.
That’s why Adam McCosham, a Hamilton County Parks employee who serves as an environmental educator, led members of the public on a catch-and-release tagging event at Shaker Trace Nursery on Sunday.
Armed with butterfly nets, McCosham’s group attempted to catch monarchs, tag them with a unique ID sticker, and release them.
The hope is that when the butterflies reach their destination someone will notice the tag and record it to contribute to data that may prove helpful to researchers.
“You can see exactly where they’re going,” McCosham said. “You can also track survivor trends as well, like what areas are getting better survivability.”
Habitat loss impacts monarchs perhaps more than any single other factor.
The same flat land that attracts butterflies to open meadows are also attractive to developers.
Changing agriculture practices also impact the amount of milkweed readily available to monarchs, which they depend on for food and reproductive purposes.
“The thing that affects them the most here is genetically modified crops,” McCosham said.
McCosham caught the first monarch with a flick of the wrist near a row of purple aster flowers, folding the net over itself and trapping the insect.
He then removed the butterfly, attached a unique tracking sticker, and released the butterfly, now designated “XHL700.”
After the release, he records the date, the monarch’s gender, the unique ID, and the location of the catch on a sheet he will send to a lab in Kansas that will tabulate the date.
In total, McCosham’s group caught three monarchs.
“I had low expectations today,” he said. “Honestly, I didn’t know if we’d get any. We’re a little past their peak season.”
McCosham’s words echo underlying concerns he voices later, before his group of volunteers leave.
“Insects in general are important because they pollinate a lot of our food supply,” he said. “Monarchs could be an indicator—a keystone species—of pollinators plight.”