(STATE COLLEGE, CENTRE COUNTY) -- With today's weather, you may not be thinking of monarch butterflies, but they are very busy at the moment, wrapping up their fall migration. And believe it or not, that has a connection to the State College area!
When it comes to butterfly catchers, you'll find none greater, than five-year-old Elinor Gover.
Elinor is among several children offering up their expertise at the 3-day butterfly tagging event held at Tudek Park every year during fall migration.
Unlike other insects, monarch butterflies cannot survive the cold winters of Central Pennsylvania, so millions of them will migrate south to Mexico instead, some flying as far as three thousand miles.
Often times, generation after generation of butterflies will fly the exact same route, many even hibernate in the same tree.
But despite how much is known about monarch migration, much of it remains a mystery.
Which is why Insect Ecologist and University of Kansas Professor Chip Taylor, created "Monarch Watch", a group of people, primarily volunteers, committed to conserving and researching monarchs, particularly their migration, through the act of tagging.
"It's an activity anybody can enjoy. And here at Tudek Park, we've been doing a lot more tagging each year," said Molly Sturniolo, of the Penn State Extension of the Master Gardeners of Centre County.
The Penn State Extension of the Master Gardeners of Centre County purchase tagging kits through Monarch Watch, which come complete with a data sheet, and a set of tags.
"It's about the size of a pencil eraser, and we'll just stick to their wing, we add it to the discal cell on the inside of the hind wing, and it does not impede the flight of the monarch," said Sturniolo.
But before butterflies can be tagged, they have to be caught. Once that happens, it's up to the experts to record the data.
"Butterfly's wings are very delicate, you want to be very careful how you hold them. You want to hold them with their wings closed. Thumb and finger on either side, and I'm going to show you, I'm going to open this butterfly and show you, on the back of the wings, on the hind wings, you can tell whether the butterfly is a girl or a boy, boys have this little dot on their wings, right there along the vein. Girl butterflies have much thicker wing veins without the dot. So this here is a male butterfly, and we record information on a data sheet to send back to monarch watch," said Sturniolo.
In addition to the sex of the butterfly, volunteers also record where the butterfly was captured, whether it was a wild butterfly or reared, and most importantly, its tag number.
"They contain a phone number and then a code, a 6 digit, 3 letters, 3 numbers on the code," said Sturniolo.
With the hope that other Monarch Watchers across the country will capture that same butterfly in their net, record the data and then sent it in to Monarch Watch.
"This has been a very good way to help them with the research, to help them learn the pathways, learn the conditions, to learn how monarchs get to Mexico in their fall migration," said Sturniolo.
So far, Monarch Watchers have recovered 16,000 tags between 1992 and 2011, all of which are searchable in their online database.
Of the hundreds that have been tagged in State College, six have been recovered.
As for Elinor...she's already got her net ready for next year.