Act like a praying mantis.
That was the message Kansas University ecology and evolutionary biology professor Chip Taylor gave to about 500 people who took part in the tagging of monarch butterflies Saturday at the Baker Wetlands.
"To catch a butterfly, you have to act like a praying mantis," moving stealthily to catch the monarch by surprise, he told parents and children gathered at one of the 10 or so "butterfly schools" he conducted during the morning. He showed them the proper way to catch the butterflies, then how to gently pinch their wings to apply an adhesive tag with a six-character code that allows researchers to track monarchs originating from Lawrence.
Taylor, director of KU's Monarch Watch, said he was "overwhelmed" by the attendance, which rivaled a similar event two years ago. He said the gorgeous Saturday weather helped attract earnest butterfly hunters, who were given clipboards with data sheets and stickers with which to tag monarch butterflies fluttering around the wetlands.
The butterflies will soon embark on their annual migration to Mexico, and Taylor and other butterfly watchers use the tags to study migration and population trends.
"There are a lot of things we're learning," he said, including how butterflies' points of origin - be it Kansas or Canada - affect their survival during migration. Taylor and his peers will tag about 40,000 monarch butterflies this year.
"We wouldn't know (unless) there were a lot of taggers," Taylor said. The hundreds who came to the wetlands make up only a small portion of the taggers Monarch Watch works with annually, as many as 100,000 people.
Five-year-old Anika Powers and her parents, Teri and John, caught four monarch butterflies Saturday. Anika, a young butterfly aficionado who counts monarchs and viceroys as her favorites, was busy inspecting different plants, looking for monarchs.
"When she was tagging them, she was like, 'All right, we got one!'" Teri said. "It was exciting to tag them. She understands that they migrate to Mexico."
But for Anika, tagging and releasing the monarchs isn't the best part.
"Their wings are really soft," she said, before bounding off to chase another butterfly.