Washington State Monarchs Going the Distance

Just like many of us head south to escape the cold dark winters of the Northwest, so do butterflies! The Pacific Northwest Monarch butterfly population is thought to overwinter in coastal California and possibly central Mexico. This species is sensitive to fir tree and milkweed declines, and past research suggests that our butterflies are having difficulty making it to their ultimate destination each winter. The current extent of the Washington population’s migration and wintering area is largely unknown.

The Santa Cruz California Monarch Aggregation.  Two butterflies released just 4 days apart in August from Yakima, Washington traveled 675 miles (at least) to this same overwintering site!

Dr. David James, an associate professor at Washington State University (WSU) is studying this migration to learn more. In collaboration with the Washington State Penitentiary (WSP) in Walla Walla, volunteers and inmates raise thousands of Monarch butterflies to be tagged and released every fall. Each butterfly carries a small, light-weight sticker showing an ID number and an email address. After release, they wait until a stranger in the south makes contact to tell them where their butterflies have landed.

Washington State Penitentiary Monarch Butterfly Rearing 2012


David James explaining monarch biology to inmates at WSP.

On November 22nd an observer counting Monarchs in Goleta, California found a butterfly that was tagged at WSP. Goleta is 825 straight line miles from Walla Walla! This is the longest travel distance recorded for a Washington Monarch making this the most important re-sighting to date! Previous recoveries proved migration only as far south as San Francisco.

One of the 50 monarchs released from Yakima in October.

This is a great example of how the Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) model of collaborative partnerships with prisons allows multiple partners to participate in conservation efforts that reach far beyond Washington State. SPP staff at The Evergreen State College would like to congratulate WSU and WSP on this great achievement! We look forward to learning more about where our Monarchs travel in the coming years. To track the Monarch project yourself, follow their Facebook page.


Monarch wanted from fb

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