Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Radio Tagging Monarch Butterflies

Recently Lawrence witnessed something that was never done before. Radio Tags were attached on Monarch Butterflies and were set free. With help of sophisticated equipments, the butterflies were tracked. They were followed by Airplane and recorded where they are going. National Geographic Team was also in Lawrence to film this event for their upcoming serial "Great Migrations" which is going to cover several animal migrations.

I was fortunate to witness this event and become part of it. Thanks Chip Taylor, Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology of Kansas University and Director of MonarchWatch. MonarchWatch, based in west campus of Kansas University Lawrence, has been tracking the Monarch Migartions in the Northern America since 1991. It was a hot summer day and we reached airport at around 8:30 am and met rest of the team there.

Martin Wikelski, Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology in Princeton University has been involved in Radio Tagging several Birds and Animals world over, for tracking migrations. He was experimenting with butterflies for the first time though.

The National Geographic Team comprising of Leslie Schwerin, Charlie Miller, Eddie O’Connor(On sound) and Bob Poole (On camera) getting ready for the coverage. Setting all equipments in place and making sure they are ready to shoot. I found the team very creative and innovative. I also appreciated the hard work they were putting for perfection of each and every shot. And at the same time very jovial and enjoying the work.

And the scientists getting ready to Radio Tag a Monarch Butterfly. Martin Wikelski and Chip Taylor examining the Monarch before tagging. They also give interesting names to each Butterfly.

The miniature radio tag measuring about a centimeter and weighing less than 200mg including battery.

With a delicate butterfly and minute radio tag the job needs to be executed like a skillful surgery.

After placing a Tag on the Monarch Butterfly, making sure the Tag is sitting well.
The monarch is ready to take off with the tag.

The butterfly is sitting on a grass blade and the team is ready and patiently waiting to capture it's first flight.

Trying to follow the Monarch "Big Boy" all over the field and making sure that it is able to fly well and the flight is normal. The Tag weighs about 40% of the weight of the butterfly and still the butterfly managed to fly well. At least visibly the flight was looked perfect and the maneuvering effortless.


The "Big Boy" settled for a while on grass blade. The temperature was touching 80F. It was past noon, so we decided to take a lunch break. And by the time we finished our quick lunch, the Big Boy disappeared.

Martin went around in the small Airplane, attached with Radio Censers and GPS unit. His mission was to try and locate as many of the 6 butterflies tagged in those two days. He could locate 4, but Big Boy was not there among them.

In the second trip Martin and Chip decided to do a more detailed survey. They wanted to trace and mark locations of as many Butterflies as possible. They found 5 out of six but the Big Boy was missing. Sometimes if the butterfly is near ground level, the signal is weak and it becomes difficult to find it. But while taking a bit longer route, they received signal. It was almost 10 miles from the location it was released and in the expected direction. Upon landing on ground, the team rushed to the location by car, to look for Big Boy.

The team kept on following the signals off the road on foot ...Big Boy was located happily perched a "lead plant" (Amorpha canescens) a small shrub commonly found near water courses. 11.4 miles north east of the point of release, which it traveled in a matter of 2-3 hours. It was in the direction very much expected according to Chip's experience.

The whole day in scorching heat paid off by the satisfaction of success of the experiment.

LJWorld Article and Video

37 comments:

arjan said...

Its sounds something extraordinary! radio tagging a butterfly. and you are lucky for being a part of such a wonderful experiment, for the first time in history. congratulation!
now one question, a wire like thing is attached to the radio collar? is that continues with the gadget after the butterfly was released? and if the butterfly is swallowed with the gadget by a bird!! will the signal continues?
Arjan

Vijay Barve said...

Thanks Arjan.

The wire like antenna is about 5-6 cm long.

Since the gadget has a small PCB, birds would not swallow I guess. And the battery lasts only about 5 days, because it has to be really small and light.

I hope this answers your queries.

arjan said...

How long a monark can fly in a day? you told that it had covered 11+ miles in 2-3 hours. so say if it flies for 6 hours a day then 33 miles and for five six days means 180miles at most. so the experiment is not focusing on the entire flight distance?

Vijay Barve said...

Monarchs can cover up to 60 miles in a day with ideal conditions. We are tracing that with stickers on the wings. This was meant to explore possibility of collecting more precise micro data of the movements. And mind well this was just an experiment and not research yet.

lopamudra said...

Wonderful......I never thought that this kind of experiment can be done with butterflies.....you guys need a clap.....great going...

lopamudra said...

Wonderful..i never thought that, this kind of experiment can be done with butterflies.....you guys need a clap..great going....

AMOL said...

thats great vijay. how much does it cost?

de Taurus said...

Very well documented Vijay n Congrats on de successful experiment. Its really interesting since the life of an adult species of Butterfly is too short, its important n interesting to know their habits n habitats.

Thank you for sharing the info

amoolraina said...

Awesome..i sure need some photography classes from you...!

Ravi said...

Incredible! I did not know Butterflies could be radio tagged.
Now I know. :-)

Nice pictures and very good post.

llrausch said...

Cool, vijay! Maybe I missed this, but what happened after the experiment? Did you take the tag off of Big Boy? Or does he just keep wearing it even after you guys were done monitoring him?

Vijay Barve said...

@AMOL I am told the tags are expensive, little less than $200 each. But hopefully with more usage and improvements in the technology the cost will come down.

Vijay Barve said...

@llrausch Sorry I forgot to mention, the tag was removed and Big Boy was set free to continue his journey north.

Vidya said...

This is interesting Vijay to know that Bflies could be Radio tagged! Congratulations to you and the team!! This seems to be the beginning and I'm sure we can achieve many more results in future.

Giridhar said...

I am impressed and would like to be a regular reader of this url.

v k gupta said...

It is a n amazing experiment and new learning for me.Nice photographs too.Hope it lasts for a longer duratin so that long term migration of butterflies can be studied

vignavinashak said...

Sounds unbelievable! Great achievement for the first time in history. This would open a new world in the study of some engendered species. I believe radio tagging is only possible in larger species.

vignavinashak said...

This sounds unbelievable! Great to see a pioneer in this field. I hope this will open a new chapter in the study of butterflies.

Bikramadittya said...

Wonderful account of the experiment Vijay. And it makes us so proud that you are a part of it. Carry on with your mission. Best Wishes.

Bikram

Supriya said...

Very interesting!

Priya said...

This is Too good!!
And Great that you got to be a part of this!! waao!!
I never thought that tagging can be done with butterflies..
Thanks a lot for sharing!!

Priya said...

This is Too good!!
And Great that you got to be a part of this!! waao!!
I never thought that tagging can be done with butterflies..
Thanks a lot for sharing!!

thebutterflydiaries said...

Absolutely fascinating. Thanks for sharing. Keep up the good work. Come back to India & radio-tag some before they disappear forever.

Since the Monarch is a danaid, small chance of birds tasting them so a good choice for a test subject.

Radiotagging will really help tell us a lot about the species which we didnt know earlier.

Ashwin Baindur

Deepak said...

This is amazing. Can't imagine that the butterflies can be Radio Tagged. Salute to the team leader and members. Special thanks to you for sharing.

Raghu said...

thanks Vijay for sharing this. any addition to reasons for butterfly migration other than overwintering?

umesh said...

sounds really interesting , guess u were lucky to be a part of it ....uks bhadauria

arjan said...

vijay,
i am looking forward for your answer on raghu's comment!
regards
Arjan

Pradyumna said...

thats an incredible adventure. had a lot of fun reading it. wish i was there...

arvind said...

interesting vijay . a totally new experience. thanks for detailed account Arvind

jayashri said...

Really interesting!We are proud of you that you are a member of the reseach team .Very good photography and commentry. I enjoyed very much.

Vijay Barve said...

@Raghu The reason for migration is to avoid rough weather in the winter and go back to breeding areas in summer.

farukarise said...

It is interesting and very good data might be collected from this project.

This must be done with other spp. also.

alotstuff said...

nice blog and have lots of stuff here......

http://www.envrionment.blogspot.com

snigdha said...

Thanks, I really enjoyed reading this and the first question that came to my mind is what about if a predator feed on such butterfly. Birds might reject the radio collar but what about frogs, I think they swallow the whole prey.

Jack said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
MexicoDoug said...

Hi Vijay

Could you kindly describe the range you guys had with these under average terrain (good) and typical brush (difficult) conditions? It must not be much (sounds like much less than a mile without unlucky random barriers) I say this because it seems mostly from Chip's experience that the prediction that led to the recovery was made of Big Boy.

rosse vleermuis said...

Hi Vijay,
Are you still tagging Butterflies and have the costs of the tags developped in an cheaper way ?

Do you have a link where I can find them or where I can order the parts to make them myself ??

I hope you're still active. ;-)