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Monarch Watch Makes Everyone a Scientist

Todd Kelley
Managing Editor

      Monarch Watch offers students a chance to be a part of ongoing scientific research.

Photo by Latoya Shelton
Monarch Watcher- Jim Edson outside of the museum. Edson promotes scientific study through Monarch Watch.

   Jim Edson, professor of geology at UAM and avid Monarch watcher, helps students in college and local high schools become a part of Monarch Watch.

   “Anyone can be a scientist.” Edson said. “You look out, report in and you are collecting information for scientific research.”

   Edson said Monarchs are streaming into their wintering grounds right now.

   In the fall Monarchs travel to their wintering grounds in Mexico, about 200 miles west of Mexico City. In the spring Monarchs move north and breed where they find their main food source, milkweed.

   The trip Monarchs make can be 3,000 miles depending on where they begin.

   No phenomenon can be cited as the cause of this mass migration, but Edson said his experience leads him to believe a 54 degree angle of the sun spurs the trek.

   Edson said tagging butterflies helps watchers determine how fast and far Monarchs travel. A small tag is placed on the underside of the Monarchs wing.

Photo by Latoya Shelton
Monarch - A Monarch Butterfly rests from his journey.

   The tags have unique numbers on them that watchers use to identify the butterfly by gender, first spotted location and date. The information can be found on a central registry; this knowledge gives scientists an idea of the length of the butterfly’s odyssey.

   Another mystery of the Monarchs is their ability to travel to the same spot each year. The butterflies that make the trip are the great – great grandchildren of the butterflies that left the previous spring.

   Last year Edson participated in one of the largest Monarch sightings in the country. The sighting occurred 10 miles east of Wilmot and a mile north of Highway 52 in Ashley County.

   Edson said the butterflies arrived the weekend of Oct. 7, 2006, and numbered anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000. Edson, who has traveled to the wintering grounds in Mexico five times, said that he had never seen a gathering like that, except in Mexico.

   Edson said this year’s migration was only slightly smaller than last years.

   Have a comment? Please e-mail us.

ŠThe Voice 2007
Revised 09/17/2007 08:12:03 PM —