FORT CAVAZOS, Texas — In a training area here covered in deep purple blooms of liatris, orange-vested volunteers were spotted with their mesh nets on the search for monarch butterflies. Within minutes of the event kick off, Mack Fitzgibbon spotted the orange and black butterfly fluttering nearby and used the up and over technique to capture the first monarch.
“It’s just fun to get out here and be together as a family,” Fitzgibbon said. “We enjoy being out in nature, but it is fun to win.”
Chelsea Plimpton, lead pollinator biologist for the Fort Cavazos Adaptive and Integrative Management program, hosted the third annual monarch tagging event to give the community a unique opportunity to contribute to scientific research as citizen scientists. Twenty-four Soldiers, civilians and their families volunteered Oct. 14. The volunteers were dispersed into groups and challenged to see which group could tag the most monarchs.
“Tagging provides an opportunity for people of all ages to learn about the monarch butterfly and develop a personal connection with this iconic species,” Plimpton said. “We appreciate our volunteers doing their part to help pollinators, educate themselves and spread that knowledge to others in the community.”
Fitzgibbon was joined by his grandsons and his wife Mary, who attended last year’s monarch tagging event. The duo also participated in Fort Cavazos’ annual Christmas Bird Count, leveraging citizen science opportunities and the benefits of the outdoors.
“Mother Nature is good for healing and stress relief, because you’re not going to control everything,” Mary said. “Mother nature is a part of our resilience.”
Plimpton helped to remove the monarch from the mesh net. Fitzgibbon observed the thicker wing veins and lack of black spots on its lower wings, and identified the butterfly as a female. After documenting the tag code, tag date, gender and geographic location, a tiny sticker with tag code AHNE 450 was gently placed onto the monarch’s hind wing. Fitzgibbon then released the monarch to continue its journey south to Mexico.
Each sticker has an alpha-numeric code that is unique to that individual monarch. The AIM Team purchases a tagging kit that includes stickers provided by Monarch Watch, a non-profit education, conservation and research program based at the University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas. The citizen science program enlists the help from a network of volunteers from across North America.
U.S. Army Garrison-Fort Cavazos Command Sgt. Maj. Calvin Hall joined volunteers for a second year. He encouraged others to come out and connect with their community and environment.
“Engaging our youth, Soldiers and their families to lead as good stewards of the environment is priceless,” Hall said. “These meaningful experiences make an impact not only at Cavazos but in the region, and shows how we as a community are championing citizen science opportunities.”
At the end of the fall migration, Plimpton will submit the data to Monarch Watch so that the non-profit can reference back to the information if a tagged monarch is found in Mexico.
If individuals find a monarch 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.
Plimpton encouraged others to do their part to support the monarch population by providing nectar rich plants like maximillian sunflower, cowpen daisy, curly-top gumweed and liatris, and native milkweed host plants.
“Ordering a tagging kit from Monarch Watch is one aspect to monitor conservation,” she said. “You can also create your own pollinator garden from pots on a terrace apartment to a monarch waystation at home or at work. If everyone does their part, it all adds up in an effort for monarch conservation.”
The AIM Team has captured, tagged and released 350 monarchs this season and will continue their efforts until mid-November. Since inception of the tagging program in 2017, the team has captured, tagged and released 10,911 monarchs.
To learn more about citizen science opportunities at Fort Cavazos, like and follow Facebook.com/Fort.Cavazos.AIM.Team.