Each year, monarch butterflies migrate from the northern reaches of the continent down to central Mexico. It’s a bit of a mystery. Five generations of monarchs are born each summer; most only live a few weeks. It’s the last-born of the summer that make this 2,000- to 2,500-mile migration trip.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park and parts of North Carolina are on one of the natural migration routes (www.monarchwatch.org/tagmig/fallmap.htm). It’s national parks and other public lands that protect milk weed, the poisonous plants that host monarchs.
When will Monarchs Fly Over the Smokies?
The peak of the monarch migration in Great Smoky Mountain NP (Latitude 35.6) is Sept 24 through Oct 6. (www.monarchwatch.org/tagmig/peak.html)
Monarch Tagging Events
To learn more about the monarch, the Tremont School in Great Smoky Mountains National Park holds an annual monarch-tagging event. Park visitors head over to Cades Cove to catch butterflies with nets and put a tiny sticker (aka tag) on the critter’s wing.
When a tag is discovered at the end of the line, the migration is tracked. Once such tag was found on a forest floor in Mexico 13 years later!
The Cades Cove tagging event is open to the public but you must reserve your spot because participation is limited to 16 people per day. Most years, the events are held from mid-September to late-October. In 2021, because of Cades Cove repaving closure through Sept. 27, the tagging events are held Sept. 28 – Oct. 28. Check with the Institute at Tremont website for dates and reservations. gsmit.org/monarch-tagging-and-butterflymoth-identification