Wildlife Watch: How you can help Vermont’s monarch butterflies

Published: Sep. 19, 2023 at 6:55 PM EDT
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QUECHEE, Vt. (WCAX) - Monarch butterflies are known for their bright orange wings here in Vermont. Right now, they are beginning their migration south to Mexico. But scientists are concerned about their numbers.

In the meadow at the Vermont Institute of Natural Science, Field Research Coordinator Jim Armbruster is on a mission.

“We are just out looking for monarchs. This time of year, since they are migrating, you can find them on flowering plants. They especially love the goldenrod,” Armbruster said.

With a sharp eye, a monarch is spotted. And with a quick swing of his net, he snags the butterfly and walks it over to an enclosure, carefully handling the fragile creature as he weighs it, and then tags it with a sticker that has a unique code.

“So if somebody does catch this butterfly anywhere along its migration or even in Vermont, they can read that number and report it to MonarchWatch.org,” Armbruster explained.

He gets a DNA sample that will be sent off to check on this butterfly’s health and he measures the size of the monarch.

Once that information is in, the butterfly is released back into the wild.

Armbruster says the work he is doing is a part of two citizen scientist projects Monarch Watch and Monarch Health, and it’s important work to monitor the Eastern monarch.

“The International Union for Conservation of Nature actually recently listed these butterflies, the Eastern migratory butterfly, as endangered, which means they can potentially be listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as endangered or threatened. We are finding that we are losing this population of butterflies. We are probably not going to lose monarchs totally, we will still have monarchs, but it’s the migration that’s really threatened. That’s why we are here monitoring kind of to see the number of butterflies compared to other years,” Armbruster said.

He says the decline is because of habitat loss.

“Butterflies love meadows and fields with flowering plants, and development really targets those same areas so they are losing habitat and finding the loss of milkweed,” he said.

Armbruster says ways to help the population are doing citizen science projects to help monitor the monarchs or planting goldenrod and milkweed to provide habitats, as monarchs do make a difference in the ecosystem.

“They are toxic to most animals, occasionally you will see something eating them. So they are not really a part of the food chain but they are really important pollinators so with the decline of pollinators overall, we want to protect every pollinator we can,” he said.

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