Volunteer citizen scientists
Fort Hood community member volunteers pause for a photograph at Fort Hood, Texas, Oct. 23. The volunteers helped with the Monarch Watch tagging program on National Make a Difference Day. (Photo Credit: Christine Luciano, Fort Hood DPW Environmental Outreach) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT HOOD, Texas - Soldiers, civilians and their families gathered here, Oct. 23, for a unique opportunity to contribute to scientific research as citizen scientists during National Make a Difference Day.

Chelsea Plimpton, lead pollinator biologist, Fort Hood Adaptive and Integrative Management program, and her team hosted a monarch tagging event to give the public an opportunity to experience the science.

“It’s a wonderful learning opportunity for those who do not necessarily have that background in the scientific field,” Plimpton said. “They are immersed in the environment, and everything they learn in the course of an hour and a half helps solidify how important the monarch species is.”

Plimpton explained the nearly 3,000-mile annual journey monarchs make from Canada to reach overwintering grounds in Mexico.

“The fourth generation, instinctively in their DNA, knows to migrate south, and this is the generation we are catching today,” Plimpton said. “They will overwinter in Mexico and in the spring, they will know to come back up through, start laying eggs again, and repeat the cycle over.”

Attendees gained insight from biologists on catching techniques – the quick swoop and turn of the net and the up and over. Orange-vested volunteers with their mesh nets combed the training area, ready to catch monarchs.

Using the up and over technique, a male monarch was netted by Bryce Foster, a 12-year-old, who was chasing the butterfly with his dad, Chad R. Foster, commander of U.S. Army Garrison – Fort Hood.

Catch and release
Bryce Foster, 12, son of U.S. Army Garrison - Fort Hood Commander Col. Chad R. Foster, releases a monarch butterfly as his father looks on during a monarch tagging event at Fort Hood, Texas, Oct. 23. (Photo Credit: Christine Luciano, Fort Hood DPW Environmental Outreach) VIEW ORIGINAL

“I did not know a lot about butterflies and the different types and how to tell the difference between male and female, but it was a good experience,” Bryce said. “Getting out in the wilderness was amazing.”

With the help of Matt Christiansen, seasonal biologist for University of Illinois, Bryce placed a tiny sticker on the hind wing before releasing it.

If someone finds the butterfly later, dead or alive somewhere along its journey, they can submit the alphanumeric code to Monarch Watch’s website, the organization that distributes the tags to volunteers across the country. By comparing the location where the butterflies were tagged to the places they were found, their migration patterns can be studied.

“We often don’t think about all the things people behind the scenes do to make sure we are good stewards of the environment that we depend on for our training,” Foster said. “It’s really great to see that and get a glimpse about what goes on… and it was a lot of fun being a part of it.”

Maj. Kandice Hines, deputy chief logistics, Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center, and her son and his best friend scoured another section of the training area for monarchs.

“It’s important to get youth away from things they are familiar with so that they can learn and explore outside of their comfort zone,” she said. “This event gave Jalen and Tristan a unique experience to make a difference as citizen scientists, capture two monarchs, and gain knowledge to take back to their classes.”

Plimpton and her team have captured, tagged and released more than 1,200 monarchs and will continue their efforts until mid-November. During the public event, volunteers captured 11 monarchs, recorded the tag code, tag date, gender of the butterfly, and geographic location then tagged and released them.

With the day’s success, Plimpton plans to host a public monarch tagging event annually and inspire volunteers of all ages to lead as citizen scientists.

“You really have a lot of fun catching monarchs, especially for kids. They light up every time you give them the net and you can see the sparks in their eyes,” Plimpton said. “It’s a great opportunity for families to experience the monarch butterfly.”