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Monarchs Overwintering in Virginia?
Tagged Monarchs Tell Amazing Tale
by Mr. Dave Williams
(More True Stories About Tagged Monarch Butterflies)

My wife, Joyce, and I live in Virginia Beach, Virginia (36 N, -77W). In fall of 2005 I raised approximately 455 monarchs, of which 235 were tagged and released for Monarch Watch.

September: Monarchs Tagged
On Sunday, September 25th, 2005, I caught, tagged, and released a wild male monarch with Monarch Watch tag serial No. GEX 514.
(He had probably hatched in my yard.)

January: A Monarch Sighted!
We have had a very mild winter. One warm day in January, we saw a monarch nectaring on Chrysanthemum pacificum in our yard, but we could not get close enough to identify it specifically as being male or female.

February: A Tagged Monarch Sighted!
On Thursday February 16th, another unseasonably warm day, my wife again saw a tagged male monarch nectaring on winter daphne next to our garage. She attempted to catch and photograph him, but he flew away and did not return. The next couple of days it grew very cold, down to 19 and 20 degrees during the night and early morning.

March: A Tagged Monarch Identified!
Today, Thursday, March 2 at approximately 11:00 a.m., my wife again saw the male monarch nectaring on the winter daphne. She was able to catch him, record the tag as GEX 514, and take numerous pictures. I was so excited about the implications that I immediately drove home from work, observed the monarch, and had my wife take pictures of the butterfly with me holding today’s local newspaper in the background (for a date reference).

The evidence seems to indicate that this male monarch probably overwintered in our pine trees for over five months at latitude 36.75 in Virginia Beach. IS THIS SPECIAL OR WHAT? I'll tell you this: It definitely is special for Joyce, Dave, and monarch GEX 514.

Another Tagged Monarch Identified!
Then a second monarch came by this same afternoon; my wife saw both together displaying typical male monarch aggressive behavior. This second monarch is also a wild male and was caught, tagged, and released in my yard on September 26th, 2005 with Monarch Watch tag #GEX 521 — one day later than Monarch #GEX 514.

We were totally shocked that a monarch might have actually overwintered in our area, and that it was one I caught and tagged in my yard back in September. BUT TWO MONARCHS? Now we are really wondering what is going on.

Your monarch friends,
Joyce & Dave Williams

Journaling Task
This story illustrates the value of "citizen science." (Citizen science involves regular people in the process of scientific research and discovery.)

  • List all of the things that you (and the Williams') learned about monarch butterfly biology from this single observation.
This evidence seems to indicate that these monarchs overwintered in Virginia from September to March.
 
Tagged Monarch
#GEX 514

(Click for larger images)

Tagged Monarch
#GEX 521

(Click for larger images)