University of Minnesota

How to Participate in the MLMP

There are different ways to participate in the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project:

  1. Commit to monitor regularly - If you have access to a site in which milkweed grows and that you can monitor regularly, we encourage you to monitor this site on a weekly basis during the time that milkweed is present. You will register as a Monarch Larva Monitoring Project volunteer, and provide detailed information about your site. Click here to register.
  2. Participate in other MLMP activities - MLMP has several activities for which we request volunteer reporting. If you don't have time time to monitor a site(s) weekly, consider collecting wild monarch eggs or larvae to rear inside for our Estimating Monarch Surival Activity (Activity 3). In this activity, we're interested in learning about survival of all monarchs that you collect from the wild and rear indoors. Did a healthy adult emerge, or something else? Click here for more information on Activity 3.
  3. Submit milkweed or monarch observations - If you don't have the time or an available site to monitor regularly, we would still like to know about any observations of monarch eggs, larvae, or milkweed that you make. Registered volunteers who monitor weekly should use this method of reporting to report any monarch egg, larvae, or milkweed sightings that occur away from their registered site. Non-registered volunteers can also report this way if they observe monarchs or milkweed somewhere and don't intend to report on that site weekly. Report an observation here. 

Finding a Site to Monitor for MLMP

Many volunteers monitor sites on their own property, but not everyone owns land or has milkweed. When that’s the case, there are many other places that you can monitor. Here are some ideas for possible monitoring locations near you.

  • Public Parks- Many city, county, state, and federal parks have milkweed. Walk around the parks in your area and see if you can find any. Remember, most milkweed grows in sunny areas! If you find a milkweed patch that you would like to monitor, we recommend reaching out to the park’s manager or land care office before you begin monitoring. Let them know that you would like to monitor for monarch larvae, so that they will expect to see you regularly in the park. Ensure that the area you wish to monitor isn’t sprayed with chemicals or mowed during the monarch breeding season. Finally, find out if the park has any rules or regulations about removing plants or animals; some might not let you pick flowers for later identification, collect milkweed pods, or remove larvae for use in Activity 3: Estimating Monarch Survival. It is possible that public locations may already be MLMP monitoring sites, so it is important to check the MLMP site map to ensure the location is not already a registered site.
  • Workplaces or local businesses- If you see milkweed at your workplace or at a business that you frequent, you might be able to monitor there! You should first check with the property owner and land care service, to ensure that the site won’t be sprayed or mowed during the monitoring season. When approaching a business about monitoring their property, you should highlight the benefits to them. Having and monitoring monarch habitat can be an asset to a business’s image, especially if they are environmentally-focused or have a strong sustainability policy in place.
  • Churches and schools- As with parks and businesses, you need to check with the property management and land care office before you begin monitoring. Many schools might not want people who aren’t connected with the school on their property, but parents or teachers who want to monitor, especially if they do so as part of a class or an after-school program are often more than welcome. Churches are good locations for group monitoring, and many churches have gardening or landscaping committees that might be interested in monitoring or coordinating a monitoring group with you.

If you are unable to locate an existing patch of milkweed to monitor in your area, you can create your own! Be sure to plant native milkweeds and nectar flowers; you can find out more about creating monarch habitat from the Monarch Joint Venture. Of course, creating a new site doesn’t happen overnight, and you might not be able to monitor it for several months or even until the next year. In the meantime, you can submit anecdotal Milkweed or Monarch Observations if you encounter monarch eggs, larvae, or milkweed outside your site.


Training and Supplies

As you await milkweed emergence at your site, which initiates your season monitoring, here are some pointers to become a well-trained volunteer with the equipment you need to be successful! 

  • The Monarch Lab Store has a monarch monitoring kit designed specifically for the MLMP. Purchase the whole kit, or replace any missing or broken pieces of the kit that will help you during the season.
    • Datasheets and Field Notebook: MLMP provides downloadable datasheets for each of our activities. It is best to use these since they capture all of the information we are seeking from you. If you design your own datasheet or use a field notebook, first refer to the MLMP datasheet for that activity to ensure you have everything covered.
    • Clipboard: Use a clipboard to help keep your datasheets organized. The MLMP clipboard also has a handy ID guide on the back. 
    • Hand lens: A hand lens or magnifying glass is very useful for identifying eggs and small larvae.
    • Meter stick or measuring tape (for measuring milkweed density): A meter stick is helpful for the Measuring Milkweed Density activity that you complete once during the season, or for the Milkweed Characteristics activity.
    • Rain gauge: If you can, mount an inexpensive rain gauge at your site to report rainfall for MLMP's Rainfall Activity. Try to find one that is designed to prevent the water from evaporating.
    • Thermometer: Mount an inexpensive outdoor thermometer at your site, or bring one when you visit the site to monitor each week.
    • Field guides or identification cards: To identify monarch eggs and instars, use A Field Guide to Monarch Caterpillars, the Life Cycle Cards available through the Monarch Store, or our Monarch Life Cycle section on this website. A guide to wildflowers is useful for identifying the blooming plants at your site. 
    • Containers for rearing larvae: See Making a Rearing Cage for more information, as well as the Monarch Joint Venture's Rearing Monarchs Responsibly handout for instructions on how to rear them.
  • MLMP offers an online training course. This serves as a great introduction to monarch biology and how to participate in the MLMP, and is also a great refresher course for volunteers who have been with us for years! 
  • We rely on volunteer trainers spread throughout North America to aid with in-person training. If there is an MLMP trainer or training event hosted near you, you can learn about that here. If a local training is not available to you, make sure to complete our online training course mentioned above, and feel free to contact us with any questions that you have. Even if we can't meet with you in-person, we'd love to help you get started! 
  • Through your online MLMP profile, you will share all of your monitoring data with the project. You will continue to have access to your data, but it is essential that data reported to MLMP are accurate and complete. If data entry procedures are unclear or you aren't sure how to report something, please contact us! 

Improving Your Data Accuracy

Since many MLMP sites have too many milkweed plants to check each week, all of the data we work with are actually estimates of the actual monarch densities at the sites. If you have a site like this, here are a few pointers to make your data as accurate as possible:

  • Choose the plants you check randomly! If you only look at plants that look “good,” there’s a good chance that you’ll overestimate monarch density. If you have questions about how best to do this, please contact us.
  • Look at as many plants as you have time for! The more plants you check, the better your estimate.
  • Check the plants carefully! If you miss tiny first instar larvae, or call a milkweed latex dollop an egg, your estimates will be off. Check the plants from the top to the bottom, including the stem and any seed pods or flower blossoms. 
  • Be careful in your identification of the different larval instars! Check out our Monarch Life Cycle section for pictures and specifications of the different developmental stages.
  • Send us a hard copy of your data at the end of each season. We double check that your data entry matches what you entered online, and keep the hard copy records for future reference if questions arise. Mail these to the address listed in the footer of this website. . 

Monitoring Rules

  1. Be confident. You have read the instructions, you have received training--you have the ability to make good decisions in the field.
  2. Be consistent. Once you make a decision, stick with it. Much of the utility of the monitoring data lies in comparisons within a site over time.
  3. Keep excellent notes. Document what you do. Fill out all fields on the datasheets, or explain why you can't. If you need to deviate from the protocol, keep track of what you did and why.
  4. Enter your data onto the website regularly. We can keep a “running tab” of monarch abundance throughout the breeding season if everyone enters their monitoring data on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.
  5. Ask for help when you need it. You can use email, the MLMP website, Facebook page, the telephone, or mail to contact us or other monitoring project participants. Our contact information is listed in the footer of our website. 
  6. Monitor regularly. Missing a week or two will not make your results useless or invalid--don't let it be a reason to not participate in the project. However, if you need to miss a week or two, you might try convincing a friend or neighbor to monitor for you.

Monitoring Tips

  • Update your site description and your personal volunteer information at the beginning of each season.  We are especially interested in hearing about changes that have occurred at your site during or between seasons.
  • Avoid monitoring in a location that was likely sprayed with chemicals.
  • Schedule a consistent day of the week to monitor. Remember it is okay to miss a week if needed.
  • Start monitoring as soon as the first milkweed emerges (not at the first sign of monarchs), and don’t forget to record the date milkweed emerged in the “Description of Monitoring Site” section online!
  • The Milkweed Density activity should be completed during the middle of the season, when the milkweed is at its highest.
  • Keep monitoring even if you aren’t seeing monarchs. We need to know where monarchs are not being seen (absence data) just as much as where they are being seen, and the only way we can know that is when volunteers report it. This is especially true now that monarch numbers are low.
  • Monitor all the milkweed plants if you can, or sample by walking random transects when collecting monarch and milkweed density data. Remember that monitoring a non-random sample of your milkweed patch by choosing only plants you think are likely to have monarchs may bias your data. Put out a sign at your site that describes the project.  We have a great MLMP poster file that you can download for free!
  • Ask us for help when you need it. We’re always here!
Activity Required? Frequency Type
Description of Monitoring Site required yearly Core
Milkweed Density required yearly Core
Activity #1 Measuring Monarch Density optional weekly Core
Activity #2 Rainfall optional daily Core
Activity #3 Estimating Monarch Survival optional daily Core
Activity #4 Comparing Milkweed Characteristics optional weekly Core
Milkweed Aphid Distribution and Abundance optional weekly Supplemental
One Time Milkweed and Monarch Observations optional once Supplemental
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