Volunteers Asked to Report Monarch Winter Sightings
Each fall, thousands of monarch butterflies stream across the southern U.S. on their journey to wintering grounds in central Mexico. In the spring, this eastern population of monarchs returns to the U.S. and Canada to breed.
But not all monarchs migrate to Mexico. Some breed throughout the winter in the southern U.S., and scattered reports show that other monarchs might overwinter here in a non-reproductive state.
Researchers and others studying monarchs are seeking more information to understand why and what it might imply for monarchs, a candidate for listing under the federal Endangered Species Act.
For this, they need the public’s help.
In a collaborative effort, Journey North, Monarchs Across Georgia, the University of Georgia and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources are encouraging people to report monarch sightings from December through March in the coastal states of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, and North Carolina.
“We are reaching out to you, the community of nature enthusiasts and monarch observers, to ask for your help in monitoring locations of wintering monarchs in the U.S,” said Sonia Altizer, an ecology professor at the University of Georgia and director of Project Monarch Health. “Reports of monarch winter sightings can help scientists determine where monarchs can overwinter in the southern U.S., and how this might affect future monarch population numbers.”
Understanding monarch migration and overwintering behavior is critical to conserving these iconic butterflies. Studies have shown that monarch migration has changed in recent years in response to human activity.
Journey North coordinator Nancy Sheehan pointed out that citizen scientists have “a long history of being a part of scientific discoveries.” “I am sure the Journey North community—and future members—will hear this call to action and not only submit sightings but don their boots to help with any targeted conservation efforts identified through this effort.”
Journey North is designed to engage people across North America in tracking wildlife migration and seasonal change. For 25 years, observers have reported monarch and milkweed observations to Journey North, data then used to create real-time mapping visualizations of monarch migration and the presence of milkweed, the only plant that monarch caterpillars eat.
For nearly 20 years, Monarchs Across Georgia has engaged educators and community members in educational and scientific projects to protect and restore pollinator habitat. This work has made strides statewide as well as nationally and internationally benefiting monarchs and other pollinators. “Volunteers are vital to this effort,” said Susan Meyers, co-chair of the organization. “If you enjoy being outdoors and exploring your local ecosystem, if you want to learn more about this fascinating migratory insect, if you would like to contribute to a scientific study, this is an easy activity that can be done alone or with your family.”
Monarch observations can be submitted December-March to the Journey North citizen-science project. Visit journeynorth.org/monarchs to learn how to report monarch sightings.
Anna Yellin, a Georgia DNR wildlife biologist, said the agency “is grateful for the opportunity to work with UGA, Journey North, Monarchs Across Georgia and the community” on this project. “By bringing all of our minds, eyes and energy together, we stand a better chance of protecting the monarch butterfly for future generations.”
Join the Effort
- Step 1: Create a free account with Journey North at journeynorth.org/reg.
- Step 2: Learn how to report monarch sightings at journeynorth.org/monarchs.
- Step 3: Submit monarch observations from December–March at journeynorth.org/sightings.