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PAC 119–Monarch Watch Part II

November 29, 2010

Do you like movie trilogies? The first episode is so incredible/profitable that a second episode is rolled out regardless of a cohesive plot. Typically Part II is the dour, depressing, hopeless drama in the saga. A requisite cheery ending is doled out despite the passage of decades/principle actors and we spend endless wasted hours complaining about how it didn’t live up to the initial movie.

I’m warning you now – you will get a Part III. It may be months from now and the main character will be dead.

Our lead is PAC 119, a tagged Monarch butterfly discovered in October of 2010 at the St. Mark’s national Wildlife Refuge in Florida. The conspicuous blue dot on an otherwise orange and black butterfly is relatively unobtrusive to the insect as it bursts in effortless puffs from flower to flower, feeding on nectar. Where this butterfly picked up its tag is a mystery and where it will end up can only be resolved in a suspense filled follow up Part III in 3-D and UV. But for now we know this much, the tag reads:

TAG@KU.EDU
Monarch Watch
1-888-TAGGING
PAC 119

(The coding was changed to protect the anonymity of the butterfly)

The nine millimeter in diameter, adhesive backed tag was placed delicately on top of the mitten-shaped discal cell, a tagging practice that doesn’t impede flight and increases the chance of recovering it. Tagging and recoveries give insights into fly ways, distance traveled, peak migration and survival rates.

PAC 119 is a distinct set of numbers and letters that allows Monarch Watch to track it when recovered. I’ve passed along this butterfly’s location and from here the insect will head south where it will overwinter in a select range of coniferous mountains of Mexico. Unusually harsh winters have decimated the Monarchs hoping to ride out the winter months here and illegal logging is a persistent threat to the 20+ acres of forest that is home to most of North America’s butterfly kings.

So how will our leading lepidopteron fare? Will PAC 119 survive the flight across the Gulf of Mexico? Will it arrive safely at its alpine alcove? Will it succumb in the frigid forest? Tune in next time and see.

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