The Toledo Zoo made it to Mexico. Well, at least nine tagged monarch butterflies released by the Zoo’s conservation initiative, Wild Toledo, completed the 2,200+ mile migration to their historic overwintering grounds south of the border. Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus plexippus) are easily recognizable because of their orange and black coloring. However, monarchs are also a declining species because of loss of habitat and food sources, making this recorded migration a true success for biologists and butterflies alike.
Nine Toledo Zoo tags were recovered in El Rosario Butterfly Reserve, located inAngangueo, Michoacan, Mexico. Data shows that the recovered tags were from seven males and two females that were released on Zoo grounds between August 30 and September 7, 2015. The recovery of these tags means that at least those nine butterflies completed the entire journey from Toledo to Mexico, which if one were to walk the believed route would take almost 700 hours! However, as Wild Toledo coordinator, Ryan Walsh, hypothesizes, finding these nine tags together in an area probably means that the monarchs stayed together throughout the migration and that a lot more actually made it but were not recovered. He went on to point out that it is still early in the typical recovery period, so more tags may be located.
Tag recovery rates vary year to year but are typically quite low due to the incredible density of monarchs in the protected land and the small groups of locals and eco-tourists collecting the tags. Reports and pictures from the area show huge Cozumel fir trees completely covered in butterflies with branches drooping from the weight of the humongous monarch colonies. In 2014, the Zoo released 280 tagged monarchs and no tags were recovered. In 2015, 760 monarchs were tagged and released, meaning 1 in approximately every 85 butterflies were recovered. That is an incredible increase from when tagging began and only 1 in 1,000 tags were recovered! Walsh chuckled: “We’re not sure exactly why we had such a good year, but that doesn’t take away from how incredible it is to have these tags recovered.”
All monarch butterflies reared at the Toledo Zoo are raised from eggs collected in the native prairies on Zoo grounds and feed on milkweed grown from seed inside the greenhouse to control the possibility of disease. Before release each monarch butterfly is tagged by hand with a small sticker indicating an individual identification number from Monarch Watch, a dedicated group of students, scientists and citizen scientists committed to the conservation of the iconic butterfly species. Each tag displays three letters and three numbers along with an email address to report the finding. Each identification number corresponds to a record entered into the database that contains information such as sex, captive or wild-reared and the release date. Once recovered, tag numbers are recorded and the results released online so contributing institutions may track their own progress.
The increase in monarchs being reared in the greenhouse at the Toledo Zoo is thanks in part to the Zoo PAL (Proud Animal Lover) sponsorship program that enables the public to symbolically adopt a monarch for a nominal fee. Walsh assures that he is emailing the “monarch parents” from 2015 to relay this exciting news and that the Zoo is already preparing for another release this summer. “We will definitely do it again. We are very excited and encouraged by our results and can’t wait to continue sharing this incredible natural wonder!”