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