McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

State House

October 2, 2013

Monarch tagging: Butterflies netted, released at Dillingham Garden

ENID, Okla. — At Dillingham Memorial Garden south of St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center, George Ann Ford quietly came up behind a monarch butterfly and dropped a net over him.

She held the closed end of the net up until he fluttered upward, then slid the open end to the side to catch him in the fold. Ford carefully carried him to a concrete garden border and set down the net, then tickled his feet to get him to let go of the fabric before she reached inside and grasped him by his wings.

Holding him carefully, she removed a tag from a sheet and placed it on the mitten-shaped cell on the underside of his hindwing. That done, she released him to continue feeding in the garden and winging his way south toward Mexico.

“They are the only butterfly that migrates 2,000 miles,” Ford said.

The retired teacher has been part of Monarch Watch, a project to track the butterflies on their annual migration, since 1993. Each year, she tags the butterflies at areas around Enid and releases them. If a dead butterfly is located by someone who notices the tag, they are asked to report its finding to the Monarch Watch program.

Some days, Ford takes students along with her as a science learning activity. On Tuesday, she worked with a group of Lincoln Academy middle school students.

She documents the butterflies she and the students tag.

“Yesterday, they were mostly male, and today, they are alternating,” Ford said of the butterflies she was tagging on Wednesday.

Ford compares monarchs to the canaries miners once carried into the mines. As the environment becomes harsher on monarchs, so it becomes harsher on all of us.

“Their population has gone down 30 percent,” Ford said.

Ford has helped with Monarch Watch since 1993. Monarch Watch, an educational outreach of the University of Kansas, was launched in 1992.

“This program produces real data that relate to a serious conservation issue,” the Monarch Watch website reads. “Monarch Watch gets children of all ages involved in science. Our website provides a wealth of information on the biology and conservation of monarch butterflies, and many children use it as a resource for science fair projects or reports. Additionally, we encourage children to showcase their research or school projects on our website, and we involve them in real science with the tagging program.”

For information on Monarch Watch, as well as the butterflies the program monitors, go to monarch watch.org.

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