The Monarch Watch Tagging Program is a large-scale citizen science project that was initiated in 1992 to help understand the dynamics of the monarch's spectacular fall migration through mark and recapture.
Tagging was originally used by Dr. Fred Urquhart of the University of Toronto help locate overwintering monarchs and later to determine where monarchs came from that wintered in Mexico. Our long-range tagging program at Monarch Watch continues to reveal much more. Tagging helps answer questions about the origins of monarchs that reach Mexico, the timing and pace of the migration, mortality during the migration, and changes in geographic distribution. It also shows that the probability of reaching Mexico is related to geographic location, size of the butterfly, and the date (particularly as this relates to the migration window for a given location).
The majority of the recovered tags are obtained from central Mexico. Early each year our volunteers visit the overwintering sites, particularly El Rosario and Sierra Chincua, where we purchase tags from the guides and ejido members. The ratio of untagged to tagged monarchs is quite high and it takes several hours on average to find each tag among the dead butterflies on the trails and under the monarch-covered trees. We pay approximately $5US for each tag, reasonable compensation for the time and energy spent locating them.