Not All Monarchs Make it to Mexico
What Do Florida Tagging Results Suggest?
(More True Stories About Tagged Monarch Butterflies)

October 2002
On October 10, 2002, Ms. Laura Witkiewicz witnessed one of the hazards of migration when visiting Panama City Beach, Florida. Thousands of dead monarchs littered the beach.

“We walked .7 mile from our hotel to the pier, and there were probably 25 dead monarchs per yard on the beach. I figured they must have had trouble as a group while migrating. Can you comment on this please?”

We contacted Mr. Richard RuBino, who is based neaby on Florida’s Panhandle. He conducts the annual monarch census at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, in St. Marks, FL. He has a very interesting hypothesis as to why the monarchs might have washed ashore, based on his own tagging experiences:

“The tropical storm (the previous week) could well have forced migrating monarchs down into the water and then washed them ashore,” he speculated. “In the fall, monarchs are frequently found hundreds of miles out in the Gulf on boats and oil platforms. It rather corroborates my hypothesis that many of the monarchs migrating down to the Gulf coast try to fly across the Gulf to Mexico.”

Importantly, of the nearly 12,500 monarchs he has tagged at St. Marks Refuge in ten years, only three have been found in Mexico. This is far, far below the ratios recorded elsewhere. According to Dr. Chip Taylor of Monarch Watch, nearly 1% of all monarchs tagged are found at the sanctuaries in Mexico.

Monarch With Tag
Photo: Gayle Kloewer

Journaling Questions
Compare the Florida tagging results to the overall tagging results:
  • If 1% of the monarchs Mr. RuBino tagged on the Florida Panhandle had been recovered in Mexico, how many recoveries would you expect? (Remember: 1% means one in every one hundred, 10 in every thousand, 100 in every ten thousand, etc.)
  • In reality, only 1 in ___ of the St. Marks, FL monarchs has been recovered in Mexico.
  • Write a description comparing this rate of recovery. What do you suppose is happening to the Florida monarchs?

Work through these problems yourself, then check our answers.

National Science Education Standards

Science as Inquiry
Use data to conduct a reasonable explanation. (K-4)

Develop descriptions, explanations, predictions, and models using evidence. (5-8)

National Geography Standards

The World in Spatial Terms
How to use maps and other geographic representations, tools, and technologies to acquire, process, and report information.

National Math Standards

Numbers and Operations
Understand meanings of operations and how they relate to one another