About Project Monarch Health
Project Monarch Health is a community science project working to track the prevalence of the protozoan parasite Ophryocystis elektroscirrha (OE) in monarch butterflies in North America. The program was started in 2006 by Dr. Sonia Altizer and then-undergraduate student Natalie Kolleda Tarpein (now a science teacher in SC), and since then has received over 90,000 samples from volunteers all over the US and Canada.
This long-term, widespread data allows scientists to better understand where and when this parasite is likely to be the most prevalent. Although this parasite does not infect humans, it can make butterflies very sick. Monarchs infected with OE may be too weak to emerge properly from their chrysalides, resulting in deformed wings and an inability to fly. In other cases, infected monarchs can look completely normal but cannot fly as well or live as long as healthy monarchs. Because monarchs are migratory, this can impact their ability to complete their journey down to Mexico, where they hibernate during the winter.
Why should I participate?
By participating in Project Monarch Health, community scientists help to shed light on how animal migrations influence the spread of infectious diseases. It would be impossible for a single scientist, or even a team of scientists, to sample enough monarchs in enough locations to get a complete understanding of what affects monarch populations.
Citizen science is able to provide a wealth of data that can be incredibly helpful when looking at long-term and widespread changes in monarch populations. In fact, much of what the scientific world knows about monarch ecology and conservation is because of community scientists! Community scientists have been collecting data on monarchs for over 60 years through many different programs. To see some of our findings using community scientist data, check out our Project Results.
Who can participate?
Anyone interested in monarch butterflies can participate! Project Monarch Health community scientists include people of all skills, ages, and backgrounds, including families, retired persons, classrooms, monarch organizations, nature centers, and other individuals.
For teachers and classroom participants, click here for more classroom resources.
What will I do when I participate?
You will either capture monarch butterflies as adults or raise the caterpillars until they become adult butterflies. We will send you a kit with all the supplies needed to sample your monarchs for OE. Next, you will send the sample, along with a data sheet with information on each butterfly, back to the scientists at the Altizer lab where they will analyze the sample. After the data are compiled, we will send you your results back via email.
Click here for more information on how to sample your monarchs for OE.
Other Monarch Programs
Monarch Larva Monitoring Project began in 1997 at the University of Minnesota. It involves citizens in collecting data on larval monarch populations and milkweed habitat.that will help to explain the distribution and abundance patterns of monarch butterflies in North America.
Journey North helps students study wildlife migration and seasonal change. They track the coming of spring through the migration patterns of not only monarch butterflies, but also a variety of birds and mammals, as well as changing sunlight and other natural events.
The Monarch Joint Venture is a national partnership of federal and state agencies, non-governmental organizations, businesses and academic programs working together to conserve the monarch butterfly migration.
Monarch Watch was founded in 1992 at the University of Kansas. It strives to understand and conserve the monarch migration by enlisting volunteers to set up waystations and tag monarchs during the fall migration.
Monarch Migratory Association of America
Monarch Migratory Association of America is a network of existing monarch migration projects that all focus on counting the annual numbers of monarchs that migrate though specific sites in North America.
Monarchs Across Georgia is a collaboration of teachers, students, families, communities, and businesses all working together to study monarch butterflies and restore butterfly habitat across Georgia.