Preguntas / respuestas


The project


What is Mission Monarch ?


It is a citizen science project aimed at gathering data to help researchers study Canadian monarch breeding habitats. This knowledge will make it possible to identify concrete actions to protect these butterflies. Participants visit fields where milkweed is found, several times over the summer, and look for monarch eggs and caterpillars on the plants.



Who is overseeing Mission Monarch ?


The project is a joint initiative of the Montréal Insectarium and the Institut de recherche en biologie végétale. A number of researchers from the University of Ottawa, the Université de Rimouski and the University of Calgary are also involved.



Who can participate in Mission Monarch ? Is it suitable for families?


Anyone can participate! The instructions are designed to be easy for people everywhere, of all ages, to follow. There is also a special protocol for large groups.



Why participate in Mission Monarch?


  • To help North American migratory monarchs, whose status is designated “Endangered” by the COSEWIC.
  • To take part in scientific research on monarchs and get first-hand scientific experience, by trying your hand at the work done by biologists.
  • To get in touch with nature, by discovering a new outdoor activity.
  • To do something together, because it’s easy to do as a family, with friends or as a larger group.

And because it’s fun!


Before getting started


How can I participate in Mission Monarch ?


Just create an account on our Website, and you’re ready to head out and start counting! You’ll find detailed explanations on what to do and the materials you’ll be using on our website.



How much does it cost?


It’s free to participate in Mission Monarch.



What are the steps involved in Mission Monarch?


  1. Get ready by reading the documentation and instructions
  2. Choose an observation site
  3. Describe your inventory site
  4. Observe and count the monarchs, several times over the summer
  5. Submit the data you collected to our website



What are the data collected through Mission Monarch used for?


The data make it possible to confirm whether there are actually monarchs at the observation sites. By collating this data, the researchers will be able to identify the monarchs’ preferred breeding habitats and draw up an effective conservation plan for them.



Where can I find out more about monarchs?


Look at the The monarchs section of the website for all kinds of information on monarch biology, their life cycle and migration, and efforts being taken to protect them.


In the field


When should I start and finish making my observations? How often should I visit my site?


Monarchs start arriving in Canada in June and the last members of the migratory generation leave in September or October. The ideal is to visit the same site once a week, on the same day and at the same time, from June to September. The more regularly you collect your data, the more reliable they will be. If you can manage it, that’s great!

If you can’t be that consistent, don’t worry, all data are useful. We want to know what’s happening on your site, and if you can visit it at least four times over the summer, that will give us a good idea.



What if it rains on my observation day?


Rain doesn’t have to keep you from going out, if you feel like it. Caterpillars will be there, rain or shine! If it’s raining on the day of your excursion, you’ll find a raincoat, boots and a large plastic bag (to protect your data collection sheets) handy. Of course, you can always postpone your outing to the next day if the weather is really unpleasant.



What if there is more than one milkweed species on my site?


Use one data collection sheet per milkweed species present. So you’ll be following the same instructions, but recording your data on two separate sheets.



How many milkweed plants can I look at?


There is not really any minimum or maximum.

If you’re able to examine all the milkweed plants on your site, go ahead. If there are too many plants to inspect them all, a 20-plant sample (chosen according to the protocol) is sufficient.



Is there a maximum number of observations/outings I can make?


The idea is to visit a site once a week and to examine up to 80 milkweed plants. Collecting more data on a given site won’t add any especially useful information. If you want to keep going, it’s better to add a new site and conduct a count there.



What if I can’t find any monarchs on my site?


You’ll likely get mostly zeros – which means that you’ll find very few if any monarchs. That’s ok. Keep going with your observations. It is just as important to know where there aren’t any monarchs as where they are found. And who knows, you may be surprised sometime over the summer to see a female preparing to lay her eggs on the milkweed on your site!



What if my site gets mowed during the summer?


Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do. Make a note of it and submit your observations to the Mission Monarch website. You can go back a few weeks later, though, and look for some new milkweed shoots. You might even find some monarch eggs on small milkweed shoots.



How can I identify the boundaries of my site?


Your observation site is the entire area in which milkweed could grow. Milkweed is usually found in open, disturbed sites, like fields. Wooded areas, roads and the edges of lawns are examples of changes in habitat. They may help you identify the boundaries of your site. On your first visit, look around your site and pick out some landmarks to help you mark your observations on the interactive map when you submit your data.



Can my observation site be my garden?


Yes. Even better, you can maximize your chances of observing monarchs by turning your garden into a monarch oasis.



What other species are found on milkweed?


Look at the identification sheet for other species found on milkweed.



What should I do if I find lots of eggs but no caterpillars?


Take as many photos of what you see as possible! That will make it possible to confirm whether it’s because you misidentified the eggs or something else prevented the caterpillars from hatching or surviving.

If your inventories don’t seem to match up, take note of anything that could interfere with the monarch caterpillars, such as the use of pesticides, a major event occurring near the milkweed, competition from other species, etc.



How can I tell the instars (larval stages) apart?


The size of a caterpillar’s filaments, its colours and some of its behaviours are good clues to help you identify the instar. Go to the Recognizing monarchs section to find the caterpillar identification sheets. And take some photos during your outings so that the Mission Monarch experts can confirm your identifications.



Do the same monarchs return to my site every spring?


The adult monarchs seen in Canada over the summer survive for about 3 weeks. In late summer, a migratory generation capable of surviving for 8 months emerges and heads off to Mexico. Most males end up dying in Mexico, at the end of the overwintering season. The females start migrating north to lay their eggs before they die, but don’t make it any farther than the southern United States. It takes one or two more generations for monarchs to reach southern Canada. So it’s not the same individuals that return here in early summer, but their grandchildren or even their great grandchildren!


What are the elements to consider for my safety?


As with any type of field work, we strongly recommend that you wear long pants, a hat, and closed shoes. Don’t forget to bring a water bottle. When participating in Mission Monarch, it is important to choose a safe terrain and recognize the risks you may face (see attached document). It is also important not to venture onto private property without proper authorization.


Is milkweed poisonous?


Milkweed produces a white and sticky latex that contains cardenolides: a bad tasting, toxic molecule that contributes to the plant’s defense mechanism. Monarchs are not affected by these molecules; to the contrary, they store them up and use them for their own defense.

For a human, to get poisoned, they would have to eat a lot of milkweed. Because of the plant’s bitter taste, this is highly unlikely.

As for dermatitis, it is generally individuals who are in repeated and extensive contact with milkweed, such as horticulturists and entomologists, who suffer from skin irritation.


Submitting your data


How are the data submitted verified?


The Mission Monarch experts verify that the data submitted are consistent with monarch biology. To avoid having any valuable data rejected, take photos of your finds! Then if there is any doubt, the experts can confirm your identifications.



What if I make a mistake when entering my data?


You can adjust your data at any time by going to the “My Profile” section of the website.



What if I’m not sure of an identification? Where can I get help?


You can refer to the identification sheets on the website. If in doubt, take a photo and check once you get home, with the help of the identification sheets, or email us for confirmation.


Other questions


How can you get involved in/help Mission Monarch ?


The best way to help the project is to collect as much data as possible. If you are already participating and would like to do more, you can:

  • Observe other sites ;
  • Tell other people about Mission Monarch ;
  • Organize some outings and invite some new people to join you.


If you have any other suggestions for spreading the word about Mission Monarch, email us.