Monarch Tag That Traveled Round Trip
by Elizabeth Howard
Last November, I found a monarch tag at the winter
sanctuaries in Mexico. I just happened to see it under a huge
cluster of butterflies.
was almost hidden in the thick vegetation beneath my feet. The
tag had fallen from the wing of the butterfly and was lying on
the ground. Imagine the chance! The tag rode all the way to Mexico
on the wing of a butterfly and then
carefully tucked the tag into my pocket, but I could hardly contain
my excitement. Where had the butterfly come from? How far had
it flown? Who tagged it?
home in the bus back to Mexico City, I bounced along for four
hours. Winding around corners, and up and down mountain roads,
I marveled that the monarch had found the mountain-top sanctuary
all on its own.
During the long flight back to my home in Minnesota — traveling
for six hours at jet speed — I thought about the tiny butterfly.
Perhaps it flew over the same terrain and landmarks I could see
The jet engines roared powerfully. We were burning hundreds of
gallons of fuel and humankind’s best technology was guiding
us. The butterfly had traveled in the opposite way, slowly and
soundlessly, guided by a mysterious and magnificent instinct,
and powered by the sweet nectar of flowers.
checked their records, we found that the butterfly had been tagged
the previous August by a man named Tom Murphy. To my great surprise,
Tom lived in my own state of Minnesota, just an hour’s drive
from my home! As the certificate told, the butterfly had traveled
1,768 miles from Minnesota to Mexico. It had probably flown the
same path I watched from the plane’s window.
was eager to meet the Murphys and kept meaning to contact them.
But time passed and I forgot, until one day in early August…
happened to see a story in the Minneapolis newspaper about an
organic farmer in Cannon Falls, MN who was holding an open house
inviting the public to tag monarch butterflies. The man’s
name was Tom Murphy.
decided to go and surprise him. I took the picture of myself in
the sanctuary with their tag, and the tag itself. In the background
they would see the exact trees to which their butterfly had flown
from their farm in Minnesota.
was a big crowd when I arrived but I recognized the Murphys immediately
from the photo in the paper. People were standing in line to talk
to Tom, with questions about monarchs, tagging, butterfly gardening,
etc. I waited until my turn finally came. “I have a surprise
for you,” I said. “I was in the monarch sanctuaries
in Mexico last November and look what I found.”
I showed him the photo and the tag. As we looked at the Monarch
Watch certificate that carried our two names, we realized that
the butterfly had been tagged exactly one year earlier, to the
day, August 17, 2001. The tag had traveled full circle, in time
and in space.
on that mid-August day in the Murphy’s backyard, monarchs
were filling up on nectar, preparing for their own long journey
to Mexico. Though the calendar said fall was coming, it still
felt like summer to us and our minds argued otherwise. But in
mid-August, monarchs know that the seasons are turning, as tag
#AGB822 had proven.