LOGAN, Utah (ABC4) – The majestic monarch butterfly is facing unprecedented decline and Utah State University wants to make sure that doesn’t happen.
To aid the struggling species, Utah State University students have been capturing and tagging monarch butterflies in the Uintah Basin region to better understand the decline.
Tagging butterflies will allow researchers to study their migration path and protect their feeding and breeding grounds.
Every year, monarch butterflies embark on a “multi-generational 3,000-mile migration, traveling south to Mexico each fall and back up to Canada in the spring,” according to the National Wildlife Federation. “In the West of the Rockies, the western population migrates to central and southern California each fall.”
Due to habitat loss, climate change, and increased pesticide use, monarch butterflies have suffered a population decline upwards of 90%, according to the National Wildlife Federation.
Monarchs are a vital part of our ecosystem as pollinators by maintaining the habitats that many animals rely on for food and shelter.
“Monarch butterflies are facing a large historical decline over the last 40 years,” says USU senior Carson Liesik, a student on the project. “Their population, as of the beginning of 2020, was estimated at about 30,000 monarchs in the Western United States, which is about a 99 percent drop in their abundance as compared to data from the 1980s. We are hoping to learn how to help the monarch butterfly population recover from its historic decline. This project is a crucial step towards this goal.”
When tagging the butterflies, students recorded information about each one including its gender, wing condition, and location of discovery.
The project’s focus is to learn the path these butterflies are traveling on to ensure they have what they need to thrive.
“We tagged each butterfly with a unique number so that if it is recaptured at a later date, we can map its migration path as well as habitat use and activity,” says Liesik. “We are trying to get an idea of where these monarch butterflies are and how they are utilizing the resources available to them.”
Researchers say the public can help restore and maintain the monarch butterfly population, too.
The best way is by growing milkweed plants wherever you may have space. Milkweed is the main food source that monarch butterflies rely on.
“If you plant milkweed in your yard, you might be lucky enough to see monarchs stop and breed,” says the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR).