I have been made aware via a local entomologically passionate facebook group about a research project at the University of Hong Kong that aims to track the movements of Danaid butterflies in Hong Kong and surrounding regions. This will be done by tagging relevant species with information stickers, and we hope that members of the public are able to help document such sightings. I am not affiliated with the University in any way, but I hope by sharing this on the forum that iNatters living in the relevant regions are made aware of this project.
More information about the project and about Asian Danaids can be gathered on https://www.danaidhk.com/.
Here includes a number of Danaid butterfly species involved in the project: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=7613&taxon_id=61244&view=species
It sounds very interesting. I hope they learn lots of useful stuff.
But, I wonder… would that big sticker on the scales have any possibility of adverse consequences? Adhesive itself can be destructive; I don’t know how it might disturb the scales. Or, might the sticker interfer with camouflage and attract predators?
Monarch butterfly tagging uses the exact same method. So if it works for them, I can’t see why it won’t work in this case. The website explicity states: “These sticker tags are 10 mm in diameter, waterproof, and lightweight (~7.5 mg, less than 3% of an average Euploea body weight). They do not harm the butterflies or affect their flight.”
I’ve seen butterflies fly perfectly fine with very tattered and torn up wings. Once the sticker is placed I bet it is there for the rest of its life. The rest of the wings will clearly be unaffected.
I mean, maybe? But predators are the least of the butterflies problems. Plus only a small percentage of the population is tagged.
Also I will add Danainae spp. are poisonous and uses aposematic coloration to warn predators, ie. the very opposite of camouflage.
I’d never heard of butterfly stickers before today. Maybe it is fine and my fears are groundless?
I did a quick search, and see others have similar concerns about the technology:
One thing I think I like about Hong Kong program is that it seems to be handled by responsible adults.
A thing that bothers me a bit about the monarch tagging stickers program is that some people market the tagging kits for children to use. As a former nature center teacher of school age kids, I shudder to think of such a delicate creature in the inexperienced hands of such small ones.
“If carefully placed on the wings of the butterfly and in the correct location, the tags used to track monarchs are not harmful. According to protocol, tags should be placed over the discal cell on the hindwing (visit** monarchwatch.org** for images and details) to prevent interference with flight.”
I’m just as knowledgeable as you are regarding these stickers. But I wonder what would the alternative be, since it’s not like we can place a GPS on them to track them. It seems like the sticker method is the least intrusive method whilst keeping specific track of individuals. One certainly could make iNat observations but then it would be practically impossible to know where the butterfly is coming from and where it will go.
It is a research project at a University, so I would also assume that the researchers adhere to an ethical code of conduct both on the subjects and on the project itself.