Citizen Scientist Called To Tag Monarch Butterflies

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Scientists once held the theory that monarch butterflies east of the Continental Divide migrated to Mexico for the winter, while those west of the Divide wintered in California.

Chris Kline, citizen scientist and former Pine resident, is challenging that theory.

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Chris Kline (in the Ohio shirt) researches butterflies in the field.

"Our first monarch recovered in Mexico added to a growing body of evidence calling the theory into question," Kline said.

People in Mexico sighted two of the Arizona monarchs he tagged -- 1,197 miles away from the tag point, based on GPS coordinates.

Kline's research is partially funded by his employer, Boyce Thompson Arboretum in Superior. He is the education director.

"The Arboretum gives me about $1,000 for travel and tagging, but I continue to research monarchs because it is a passion," Kline said.

When he decided to research monarch migratory patterns four years ago, he had trouble finding tag manufacturers.

Finally, a scientist in the Eastern U.S. asked Kline, "Why are you wasting your time. There are not enough monarchs in the West to study."

Undaunted, Kline said that since no one had studied monarchs in the Southwest there was not much information.

"Here in the West, with the human population concentrated so much in the cities, people just don't take time to see any organisms in the natural world. In my experience, monarchs don't appear much in big cities," Kline said.

When Kline taught at Pine-Strawberry Elementary School, he took his students on treks into the forest to study the natural world because he felt it was important.

He still does.

Becoming a butterfly hunter, a citizen scientist, requires nothing more than a willingness to observe butterflies in the field, knowing what one is looking for and paying attention to where and what time of year the monarchs are flitting from flower to flower.

Orange and brown queen and brick red striped viceroy butterflies have colorations similar to the monarch's orange and yellow.

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Monarchs with specially designed blue tags are being tracked from Arizona.

Monarchs are larger -- three to four inches wide, from wingtip to wingtip.

Just last weekend, on a fishing trip to the Springerville area Kline tagged 30 in a field.

"That was many more than I expected to find and unheard of for this time of year in Arizona," he said.

Female monarchs in that field were laying eggs on Asclepias subverticillata, commonly known as milkweed.

Monarchs will breed four to five generations over the course of a year. The last generation that hatches in late August goes into "diapause."

It is this generation that Kline tries to locate and tag.

"Their notion of reproduction is put on hold and their energy is spent on flying for the next five to six months," Kline said.

The butterfly generation that flies to Mexico or California is also the one that flies the first leg of the return trip before they break diapause and mate.

Kline saw milkweed in Pine near the creek when he lived. He is seeking volunteers from all over the state to tag monarchs.

Those who wish to become immersed in lepidoptery, the study of butterflies, can attend the all-day count at the Arboretum on Aug. 11. Kline will host a training session Oct. 13. He will also be in the Wenima Wilderness Area near Springerville the weekend of Aug. 18 and will come to Payson if enough people report monarch butterfly sightings.

Chris Kline can be reached at (520) 689-2723 or ckline@ag.arizona.edu.

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