Butterfly — Butterflies within ... have been tagged to track their migration south. Each tag has a number specific to the butterfly, a 1-800 number to report finding the monarch and a website for Monarch Watch, a citizen science project based out of the University of Kansas. PHOTO COURTESY OF CHARLOTTE RHODES PARK

Butterfly tagging is highest yet at Charlotte Rhoades Garden

SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Charlotte Rhoades Park and Butterfly Garden is having a record year for tagging monarch butterflies to track their migratory patterns.

“We’ve tagged almost 600 in the last few weeks, which is a record for us,” said Ann Judd, master gardener and secretary of the garden’s committee.

Master Gardener Martina Dittmar thinks the total will be closer to 800 for the season as there are still plenty of caterpillars in the garden waiting to become butterflies. In previous years the butterfly garden has tagged between 300 to 350 butterflies.

“Last summer was my first year here,” said Dittmar. “I brought in every single caterpillar I found.”

When the volunteers and master gardeners locate a caterpillar in the garden, they bring them to cages inside the house on the site. The house is set to be demolished starting this week and a new building is being constructed to house the cages.

Within the cages the caterpillars are fed milkweed for two weeks until they form a chrysalis.

“We have to keep stocking food for them because they eat voraciously,” said Judd.

“One whole caterpillar will eat a whole (milkweed) plant,” said Dittmar. “It’s kind of a lot of work to raise them because you want to make sure they don’t run out of food.”

For two weeks the caterpillar transforms within the chrysalis until it hatches into a monarch. At that time, volunteers at the garden watch the new butterfly for a day while its wings become more rigid. When they hatch, the wings of the butterfly are floppy, according to Dittmar.

Once they are strong enough, the monarch is taken from the cage to be tagged. Tags, in the form of a small circular sticker, come from the Monarch Watch program, a citizen science project launched by the University of Kansas in 1992. Each tag lists the website of Monarch Watch, a 1-800 phone number to report the monarch found and a specific number for each monarch.


Once a monarch’s wings have become strong enough, a tag is placed on its wings for the migration south.

With each tag, the person placing the sticker has to record specific information for that butterfly.

“You have to write down the sex of each butterfly we tag,” said Dittmar. Also included with the recording is what date and location that butterfly was released, and whether it was reared at that location or was wild. Ideally, the butterflies are released on a warm or sunny day and often are placed directly on a plant from which they can gather nectar for food.

This season Dittmar hasn’t been as diligent about collecting the caterpillars because they have been so prolific in the garden.

“It’s been a really good year,” she said.

Lifespan for a monarch butterfly is typically one month. Those that migrate south to warmer climates during the season from mid-August to mid-September tend to live a little longer.

According to Judd, the monarch migration numbers have decreased dramatically, nearly 90 percent in the last 20 years. This prompted the project from the University of Kansas to be able to track them during their flight. Not only are the butterflies tracked, but also food sources along their route to Mexico where monarchs collect in a high-altitude forest until the spring when they make their way north again.


A monarch in the Charlotte Rhoades Park and butterfly garden has a tag to track its migration south.

There is a lot of enthusiasm for recovering the monarch population. As of Aug. 30, the website for tagging butterflies on Monarch Watch stated they were limiting orders for tagging kits due to high demand.

Southwest Harbor has an enthusiastic group in support of monarchs. Not only are there chrysalis cages at the butterfly garden but also at the public library and Sawyer’s Specialties.

“We have been encouraging people all over the island to help with hatching cages,” said Judd.

There is one plant Dittmar encourages people to plant if they want to support the monarch population.

“If anybody wants their own butterfly garden,” said Dittmar. “All you need is milkweed.”

Sarah Hinckley

Sarah Hinckley

Former Islander reporter Sarah Hinckley covered the towns of Southwest Harbor, Tremont and neighboring islands.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.