Carrie: The Traveling Monarch

Carrie took her first flight on a calm morning in the Desert Museum’s butterfly garden on January 9, 2017. We saw her fluttering colors, letting us know she would be fine, a few minutes after she was released into the wild.

Carrie is a female monarch butterfly. She emerged from her chrysalis 24 hours earlier, the last step of metamorphosis. This process of changing from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis, and then to an adult butterfly, was closely followed from the very day the eggs were laid on November 19. Thanks to the curiosity and careful observation of a home gardener from Eloy, Arizona, we were able to follow this amazing transformation, culminating in the release of a beautiful adult butterfly floating above our heads. Carrie was named in honor of a relative to this Eloy gardener.


The monarch butterfly, one of the best-known insects in the world, is found in the Sonoran Desert throughout the year, especially in the months of October and November during the fall migration. Monarch reproduction depends on milkweed plants, their host plants; the only food the picky caterpillars will eat during their development. Female Monarchs lay eggs on milkweed plants, just like Carrie’s mom did in the garden in Eloy.

During 2016, the Desert Museum and its partners expanded propagation and planting of native milkweed and nectar plants across the state of Arizona. We improved and created monarch habitat in public and private lands, schools, parks, government buildings, and universities. This allowed the butterflies to feed, breed, and continue their migration.


Scientists have developed a safe method for studying the migration of monarch butterflies across large landscapes by tagging individual butterflies and recording their movements. “Tagging” means carefully capturing a butterfly, placing a small sticker on a monarch’s hind wing containing a number and contact information, and then releasing it to continue its natural travels. In fact, Carrie was tagged before release so we hope when she arrives at a garden to feed and rest, an observer will contact us via the information on the tag. Long-term monitoring is important to determine major breeding areas and monarch flyways. The involvement of citizen scientists has been key to building the capacity to record monarch movements across North America.

Monarch butterflies have a great capacity to connect and impact human lives. Without carrying a passport, monarchs travel through large landscapes, find their paths and return to their place of origin every year, connecting people all over North America. Monarchs connect us through their migration, visiting gardens at parks and schools. Monarchs also connect governments at all levels in three countries to cooperate and share relevant information for the species as a whole. Monarchs are ambassadors of environmental good-will between our countries.

For us at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Carrie is a messenger. Carrie is taking with her a message of hope, of human and natural connections, and long-distance partnerships. Carrie’s successful travels will leave a mark in her offspring, and future generations; she will continue a long-lasting continental migration that tiny insects complete every year. And we at the Desert Museum, people in Arizona, and across the Sonoran Desert are connected to Carrie, through the hope and expectation that monarchs thrive across North America, and that our efforts regionally, support the spectacular migration of the monarch butterfly.

Written by Sergio Avila, Conservation Research Scientist 

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