Tanked, Tagged, and Ready to Take Off

Published: October 18, 2016

B-3912. Male. Tagged and ready for flight. Now a Monarch Butterfly, B-3912 was brought to College of Western Idaho (CWI) as a caterpillar from Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge. Left to grow and transform into a brightly-colored butterfly, he has been literally hanging out—with several of his friends—in a tank at the Nampa Campus Academic Building Tutoring Center. Under Biology program student Vance McFarland’s watchful eye, B-3912 is finally ready for the long journey to his winter home in Southern California.

“This guy has a long way to go,” McFarland said. “He is about to fly hundreds of miles away. If someone sees or finds this sticker out in the wild, it will lead back to me. And I sure hope it does.”

McFarland has been working closely with CWI’s Monarch Research Project for the past two years. The U.S. Army combat veteran, who once trained bomb-sniffing dogs as an infantryman, is taking a break between classes to tend to his friends in the tank. He, and a few fellow students, have been tracking and logging the butterflies’ progress since early July. On this October day, they are tagging them and determining whether they are male or female. A few days from now, they will be released.

“When I started going to school, I knew I wanted to be in biology,” McFarland said. “I got involved with this project last year helping Dusty Perkins map the milkweed distribution around (Lake Lowell) and that’s where I first really started falling in love with monarch butterflies.”

After spending this past summer chasing butterflies around Lake Lowell and in spots along the Boise River, McFarland continued his work by bringing eggs and/or caterpillars back to the campus. So far, more than 50 have fully evolved into migration-worthy Monarchs.

“Some of them may make it as far as Mexico. Others will stop in California along the coast,” he said. “When they get to where they are going, they will hang upside down in trees. The hope is that whoever may see them—will see our (tracking) stickers and report the information so we know what happened to them.”

The butterflies that make it through migration—and the winter—will begin making their way back to the north this coming spring and start the cycle all over again. McFarland, who completes his studies at CWI at the end of the year, plans to continue his Monarch research when he transfers to Boise State University.

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