Journal of Insect Behavior

, Volume 23, Issue 6, pp 405–418 | Cite as

Biological Observations of Monarch Butterfly Behavior at a Migratory Stopover Site: Results from a Long-term Tagging Study in Coastal South Carolina

  • John W. McCord
  • Andrew K. Davis


Like most migratory species, monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) must stop frequently during their long southward migration to rest and refuel, and the places where they stop are important for the success of the migration. The behavior of monarch butterflies at migratory stopover sites has never been examined in detail. Here we present results of a long-term study of monarchs at one stopover site in coastal South Carolina where over 12,000 monarchs have been captured, measured and tagged (with numbered stickers to track recovery rates) over 13 years. Only 3 monarchs (0.023%) were recovered at the monarchs’ overwintering sites in Mexico, which is consistent with other tagging studies on the eastern coast. The migration season was longer at this site than at inland locations and monarchs continued to be captured in November and December, when most monarchs had already arrived at the overwintering areas in Mexico. In addition, there were 94 monarchs captured between Jan 1 and Mar 15, indicating that some monarchs overwinter at this site. Of all monarchs captured during the migration season, 80% were captured while nectaring and 10% while roosting. Others were basking, resting, flying and even mating. The sex ratio was male biased by three to one in all behavior categories except those captured mating. Roosting and nectaring monarchs had fresher wings than those in other behavior categories, suggesting that these are younger individuals. There were 13 observations of females ovipositing on non-native Asclepias curassavica during the fall months, which speaks to the potential for this plant to pull monarchs out of the migratory pool. Aside from these insights, this study also serves as an example of the potential that monarch tagging studies have to advance scientific understanding of monarch migration.


Monarch butterfly Danaus plexippus migration tagging behavior 



A number of people participated with capturing and tagging monarchs for this project. The most significant contributors were past and present employees of the Charleston County Parks and Recreation Commission (CCPRC), Marvin Bouknight, Billy Drakeford, Brad Jaynes and Keith McCullough. During several years, CCPRC was very helpful in the purchase of tags from Monarch Watch. Financial and logistic support for the field work was provided in some years by the South Carolina Dept. of Natural Resources (SCDNR), for which specific gratitude is expressed to David Whitaker, Assistant Deputy Director for Marine Resources, SCDNR. The principal author is also grateful for the inspiration provided by hundreds of elementary and kindergarten students in the Charleston area, and most notably students and teachers at Stiles Point Elementary School, James Island, SC, for their participation in the release of many hundreds of tagged monarchs. We thank Sean Sterrett for assistance with the figures for the manuscript. AKD was supported by the Morris Animal Foundation while preparing the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.South Carolina Department of Natural ResourcesCharlestonUSA
  2. 2.Warnell School of Forestry and Natural ResourcesUniversity of GeorgiaAthensUSA

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