Mission Monarch – the science behind the citizen science

admin: Wednesday, June 8, 2016

By Maxim Larrivée

North-American migratorial monarch populations have dramatically diminished over the last 20 years. During the winter of 2014, they reached their lowest overwintering population size in Mexico since the beginning of monitoring that began over twenty years ago. It is estimated that 10 to 15 percent of migratorial monarchs breed in Canada each summer. Until now, Canada’s conservation efforts have mostly focussed on the preservation of fall migration roosting areas along the Great Lakes in Ontario. No detailed scientific knowledge currently exists on Canadian monarch breeding grounds to provide the necessary guidelines for establishing a national conservation management plan to improve their summer reproductive success.

It was initially determined, during the first meeting of the Canadian Monarch Expert panel, that Canada (in its international efforts with Mexico and the United-States to restore the migratorial monarch populations to sustainable levels) should aim to maximize breeding success of migratorial Monarchs in Canada.

This goal led to the following question: Is milkweed availability a limiting factor for monarch’s breeding success in Canada? The issue, however, is that there is currently no data available in to answer this question.

The scientific team behind Mission Monarch came up with a 3 steps approach to gather the necessary information to reach this goal:


  1. The first step consisted in aggregating into a single database all currently known information on past monarch and milkweed distribution across the country in order to determine realize and potential summer breeding territory in Canada through bioclimatic distribution models.
  2. The second step is to identify potential regional breeding hotspots by combining the results of step 1 with monarch density estimates from eButterfly monitoring data and national scale land cover and land use change analyses.
  3. Finally the third step is to conduct on the ground validation of potential monarch breeding hotspots through the Mission Monarch citizen science project.


Migratorial Monarchs breed over a very large territory during the summer in Canada. A territory so vast that it would not be possible for scientists alone to gather a sufficient amount of data to rapidly assess if milkweed availability is a limiting factor to monarch reproduction in Canada. Scientists are calling upon all Canadian citizens to help them validate and refine their research on monarch breeding habitat across the country and ultimately help conserve the migratorial monarch phenomenon.

You can now help scientist gain the knowledge that is necessary in order to conserve the beautiful monarch butterfly, as well as it’s impressive and unique migration. Join Mission Monarch!

Everything you need to know about Mission Monarch


By Daphné Laurier Montpetit
Mission Monarch coordinator

Let’s start the mission!

So here you are, ready to help saving monarch butterflies. You might be feeling a little confused with all these instructions, though. No problem! This blog tells you all you need to know to complete your mission!
Click on the links to get to the sections mentioned in the article

1-Find milkweed

Learn how to find and recognize milkweed, the monarch’s host plant. You can download identification sheets of the most common milkweed species in Canada.
Once you know all you need about milkweed, find some in your area to carry out your mission.

2-Look for monarchs

Look carefully at as many plants as you want, and make sure to take note of the location where you do it. Use the Field observation form to write down all the important information.
Look for caterpillars especially, but take note is you see any egg, chrysalis or adult along the way. You can use the Monarch identification sheets to recognize the different life stages of the monarch.

3-Report your observations

After you mission, submit your sightings online, on the Mission Monarch website. Create an account, if you haven’t yet. Then, report your field observations by filling all the fields on the Submit you mission page. Do it event if you haven’t found any monarchs: in science, zeros are very important!

What else?

Other tools are available. Use the the « Commonly confused » identification sheet to identify insects that might look like monarchs, but are not. You can also identify the others insects you are likely to see on milkweed with the “Milkweed community” sheet.
For questions about the protocol, contact us! Note that observations submitted by email cannot be added to the data base. Submit then directly vias the website.

Thank you for you participation in Monarch Mission and, enjoy the mission!




How many monarchs will you see this summer?

André-Philippe Drapeau Picard

By Sonya Charest

As a monarch passionate, you are undoubtedly hoping to observe dozens and dozens during your outings in the field and this is clearly what we wish you. However, nothing is ever guaranteed in nature. If you come back empty handed from observation outings, don’t despair. Your data is as valuable for research. Here’s why.


The monarch’s annual cycle follows a particular phenology. For example, your outings in the field can begin as soon as milkweed comes out of the ground in the spring. However, generally speaking this happens much earlier then when the first females arrive ready to lay their eggs! It is therefore to be expected that during your first outings you might find none of those sought after eggs and caterpillars. While it is nearly impossible to predict when exactly monarchs will arrive in your nearby fields, it may take a few outings before you find your first eggs and caterpillars.

You must also consider that throughout the summer, successive generations of monarchs help increase the monarch population. Therefore, it’s not because there were no monarchs present in your field during the first summer generation that you won’t find any later in the season.

Add to this the annual variations of the overall population size with recently very small populations and you will understand that it is nearly impossible to predict the presence, if, and when monarchs will show up at your monitoring sites.

However, it is your regular visits, those where you will have observed or not monarchs that will allow scientists to better understand the reproduction capacity of monarchs in Canada. Hence, let us not forget that writing down a zero where you are reporting the presence of the king of butterflies still says a lot, perhaps as much as any number.

Finally, it is important to remind ourselves that the goal of Mission Monarch is to describe and point out the best breeding habitats to preserve. Sites where we find milkweed that contain no monarchs even where milkweed is abundant provide extremely valuable information. Researchers need this data as much to better target conservation actions.

Your greatest challenge dear participants will be to never forget the importance of regularly monitoring your sites throughout the season, whatever the result of the previous outings may be. We sure won’t forget that your participation is essential to the success of this project.