Monarch Health is a citizen science project to track the prevalence of the protozoan parasite Ophryocystis elektroscirrha (OE) in monarch butterflies. This parasite does not infect humans but can make butterflies sick: Monarchs infected with OE may be too weak to emerge properly from their chrysalises and can die at this stage. Or, infected monarchs can look completely normal but cannot fly as well or live as long as healthy monarchs. To check for OE in monarchs, citizen scientists can first obtain wild adult monarchs by either catching them or rearing caterpillars until they become adults. Second, citizen scientists can press a clear sticker against each monarchs' abdomen to collect any parasites. Monarchs are then released, totally unharmed. Finally, citizen scientists send samples to our lab at the University of Georgia, where we count OE parasites using a microscope. We share results with volunteers and later report these data online or in published scientific articles.
Who can participate?
Anyone interested in monarch butterflies can participate. MonarchHealth citizen scientists include people of all skills, ages, and backgrounds including families, retired persons, classrooms, monarch organizations, nature centers, and individuals.
For teachers and classroom participants, click here for more classroom resources.
Why should I participate?
Through Monarch Health, citizen scientists help to shed light on how animal migrations influence infectious diseases. Citizen scientists also contribute to more specific knowledge about monarchs. In fact, much of what the scienitific world knows about monarch ecology and conservation is because of citizen scientists! Citizen scientists have been collecting data on monarchs for over 60 years through many different programs. In our Monarch Health program, citizen scientists have helped to identify important patterns of OE in monarchs. To see some of these findings, check out our Project Results.
What exactly will I do as a participant?
The most essential activity is capturing and sampling wild monarchs. Either capture monarch butterflies as adults or raise the caterpillars in separate containers until they become adult butterflies. In either case, you will gently tape each butterfly’s abdomen with a sticker to collect the OE spores (helpful instructional videos). Next, you will send the sample, along with a simple data sheet for 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 the results of your sampling contribution as well as post them on our results page for the public to see.
Can you help us? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org and receive a free monitoring kit!