History was made Wednesday in Lawrence, and it was all due to some winged visitors making their way through town.
“What we’re going to try to do is something that’s never been done before, and that’s put radio tags on monarch butterflies, try to get them to fly. Hopefully, we’ll be able to follow them in the airplane and see where they go,” said Chip Taylor, director of Monarch Watch at Kansas University.
Lawrence is a regular stop for the butterflies on their northward migration from Mexico.
National Geographic was in town to film the radio tagging for a new series, “Great Migration.”
Princeton University professor and biologist Martin Wikelski has used radio transmitters to track the journeys of other species, but never before has the migration of the monarch been investigated using this technology.
Wikelski, Taylor and the National Geographic crew were at the Lawrence Municipal Airport with their six-legged subjects. First, they fed the butterflies to make sure they had energy to carry the transmitters that would be attached to their bodies. The transmitters weigh about half as much as a butterfly does, which Taylor described as “startling” to the butterfly.
After releasing a newly accessorized butterfly, Taylor and Wikelski went up in a two-passenger plane for about 45 minutes to follow its signal.
“It moved a little bit to the north-northeast, which is what we expected,” said an excited Taylor post-flight.
They will be releasing more butterflies today in, hopefully, less windy conditions.
“This is the first step, and after we get through (Thursday), we’ll talk about where to take this then,” Taylor said.