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Monarch and regal fritillary survey

Surveying Butterflies videoThere is an urgent need to track monarchs across their range over time to better understand and adjust conservation measures to be most effective. Thanks to the Wildlife Conservation Fund, a citizen science project was launched in 2015 to monitor monarchs and the regal fritillary. We are asking for help with two levels of surveys. Level one is simply a site observation and documenting conditions. Level two requires walking transects and recording butterflies as well as daily conditions. Below, you will find links to both surveys, instructions for participating, and information on finding and identifying monarchs and regal fritillary butterflies.

Level one survey

Level one: Single observations/site records for regal fritillary or monarch detection.
Conditions for surveys:

  • Always obtain landowner permission prior to conducting surveys.
  • The second week of June through mid-July for both butterflies, and the second week of August through November for monarchs.
  • Middle of the day (10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.)
  • Air temperature should exceed 55°F in sunny weather.
  • Calm conditions (butterflies are not flying in windy conditions).
  • Bring binoculars to aid in identification.
  • Record each individual only once.
  • Pictures are encouraged, but avoid damaging and harassing the butterflies.
  • In the fall, we are interested in documenting a “congregation” or locations where monarchs group and rest during migration. If you see 6 or more in the fall, please document as a congregation.
  • A monarch may have a white sticker on the wing. If the number can be read with binoculars, please record the tag number.
  • Record your observation on inaturalist.com under the project NGPC Monarch and Regal Fritillary Counts which can be accessed on a smart phone, tablet or computer.
  • To record your observations on a hard copy, download this form and send your observation to adam.jones@nebraska.gov or kristal.stoner@nebraska.gov.

1. Register yourself on inaturalist.
2. Join the project NGPC Monarch and Regal Fritillary Counts (on an iphone use the “more” option to find projects).
3. When you add an observation, one of the fields is “projects.” Choose the project to gain access to the required fields for the project.

Level two survey

Level two: Planned transect

  • Always obtain landowner permission prior to conducting surveys.
  • The second week of June through mid-July for both butterflies, and the second week of August through November for monarchs.
  • Middle of the day (10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.)
  • Air temperature should exceed 55°F in sunny weather.
  • Calm conditions (butterflies are not flying in windy conditions).
  • Record each individual only once.
  • Pictures are encouraged, but avoid damaging and harassing the butterflies.
  • Record your observation on our mobile friendly site.
  • A paper survey form is also available for download. Completed forms may be mailed to our office. Download planned transect data form here: PDF or Word Document
  • Sites must be a minimum of 5 acres in size, there is no maximum size.
  • Entire survey should take no more than 45 minutes – 1.5 hours.

Plan transects out for each “prairie.”
The following are ideal conditions, but may not be possible at each prairie.

  • Transects are walked as a straight line
  • Transects should begin at least 50 feet from the edge of the prairie
  • Transects should be at least 100 feet apart
  • Ideally, 3 transects are walked for each site, but on smaller sites 1-2 are acceptable.
  • Ideally, transects will cumulatively have a length of 0.5 miles (2500 feet). This should be possible on sites over 80 acres. On smaller sites, transects will ideally have a cumulative length of at least 1000 feet.
  • On very small sites, strive to make transects at least 500 feet long.
  • If there is a wetter location, plan one transect to be close to that location.

Conducting the Survey

  • Walk a steady pace. Count the number of regal fritillaries and monarch butterflies 20 feet on either side of the transect (40 foot wide corridor).
  • If a regal or monarch are observed outside of your transect, record that in the notes, but not as a part of the transect.
  • “No observations” are just as important. Send in reports even if no regals or monarchs were detected.

Entering your data

  • If entering data using a smart phone, select “Level Two: Planned Transect.” Proceed as a guest.
  • When you are standing at the starting point of your first transect, select “Begin Transect.” Don’t start walking. This step is recording the coordinates of the beginning of the transect.
  • Depending on your device, at the bottom of your screen you will see the option to “submit report.”
  • Enter your name and current location by selecting the compass button which should identify your current location and enter it for you. If entering the information on your desktop later, use the location tool. Finalize by selecting “report it” at the bottom.
  • The next screen will say “thank you” for your report. Use the back button under the logo to see a list of observations.
  • The list of observations is a new screen with entries from multiple individuals. Your entry should be the most recent entry and appear at the top of the list. You can verify this with your name and location. A 4-digit number was automatically assigned to your transect, and you will need the number when you finish the transect.
  • Begin your survey. Walk a steady pace. Count the number of regal fritillaries and monarch butterflies 20 feet on either side of the transect (40 foot wide corridor).
  • When you finish the transect, return to the main home page and select “Survey Level 2: Transect Survey.” Select “end transect.”
  • Select “Submit a report.”
  • Enter your name, temperature and wind speed (see wind scale below).
  • In the Transect ID – you must enter the 4 digit ID that was automatically created from your start transect entry.
  • Record all the Regal Fritillaries and Monarchs detected within your transect. If you were able to determine the gender, there is a specific field for that information.
  • If you detected any outside of your transect corridor, that information is recorded in a separate field.
  • Photos are encouraged and can be included with the attachment option. If your phone is set to take very large images, it may close the app.
  • After selecting your location (use the compass button if you are physically standing at the end of the transect), choose “report it.”

Beaufort Scale of Wind (0: Calm, smoke rises vertically, 1 Light Air, Smoke drift indicates wind direction, still wind vanes, 2 Light Breeze, Wind felt on face, leaves rustle, vanes begin to move, 3 Gentle Breeze leaves and small twigs constantly moving, light flags extended, 4 Moderate Breeze dust, leaves, and loose paper lifted, small tree branches move, 5 Fresh Breeze Small trees in leaf begin to sway, 6 Strong Breeze larger tree branches moving, whistling in wires, 7 Near Gale Whole trees moving, resistance felt walking against wind)



Additional citizen scientist butterfly projects

Several other state and national conservation entities offer opportunities for the public to aid in the research and conservation of monarchs and other species. Visit the sites below to learn more or get involved.

Milkweed Watch

This project, conducted through the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is devoted to the diversity of milkweed plants and their associated fauna. For more information, visit the UNL website.

Monarch Joint Venture

This site is focused on monarch migration throughout the United States, including in Nebraska. The Monarch Joint Venture website offers an array of projects in which the public can participate and also provides a plethora of information regarding the species.

Monarch Watch

From this site you will be able to garner a vast amount of information regarding the monarch butterfly. Search for the Monarch Watch Tagging Kit. If you are interested in participating in this research you will need to order the kit from their webpage.

If you have questions about any of these survey efforts you may contact Adam Jones by email.

Identifying monarchs and regal fritillaries

Proper identification of monarchs and regal fritillaries is important when conducting surveys. The tips below will help you properly identify these butterflies.

What

RegalAndMonarchButterflyID_04222016The regal fritillary (Speyeria idalia) is a large butterfly that is similar in size to the monarch butterfly. The upper side of the forewing is bright red-orange with black markings. The upperside of the hindwing is black with a row of white spots and on the wing edge is a row of spots that are orange in males and white in females. The underside of the forewing is orange with a band of white spots and a black fringe. The hindwing is dark greenish brown with elongate white spots.

The monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippusis) a well-known butterfly. The upperside of male is bright orange with wide black borders and black veins. The upperside of female is orange-brown with wide black borders and blurred black veins. Both sexes have white spots on borders. The Viceroy butterfly (Limenitis archippus) is a mimic. The coloring and pattern of monarch and viceroy wings look nearly identical. However, a viceroy has a black line crossing the postmedian hindwing and is smaller than the monarch.

Where

The regal fritillary is a Great Plains species associated with tallgrass prairies, meadows and pastures. The larvae feed on violets. The adults feed on a variety of flowers such as milkweeds, thistles, clover and purple coneflower. It can be found statewide in Nebraska, but is more common in the eastern half of the state. The monarch is found in a variety of habitats such open habitats including fields, meadows, weedy areas, marshes, and roadsides.

When

Regal fritillaries have one flight period from the second week of June to mid-July. Monarchs have two flight periods from the second week of June – mid-July and the 1st week of August – September (can still be migrating in November depending on weather). They are migrating south to Mexico through October.

Why

There is an urgent need to understand the current population status of regal fritillaries and monarch butterflies. On April 19, 2013, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service received a petition to list the regal fritillary under the Endangered Species Act. This species is considered vulnerable by Natureserve with a current estimate of approximately 2,500 and 1,000,000 individuals range wide. It is also listed as a Tier 1 Species of Greatest Conservation Need by the Nebraska Natural Legacy Project with an estimate of 50,000-150,000 individuals in Nebraska.

A legal petition was filed on Aug. 26 with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that seeks Endangered Species Act protection for monarch butterflies. The petition indicates there has been a 90 percent decline in monarchs in the past two decades.

How

We are asking for help with two levels of surveys. Level one is simply a site observation with supporting documentation of conditions. Level two requires walking transects and recording butterflies and supporting documentation of conditions. Surveys for the regal fritillary and monarchs should be conducted in prairies.