The MonarchWatch project is coordinated by Orley "Chip" Taylor of the University of Kansas. He tells about the idea behind the project.

How did you decide to do this study?

"Glen Watson contacted us, he was involved with the song bird study. I should back up a little. They became involved in the study of the model forest in New Mexico through the Canadian Forestry Service, and the model forest study that incorporates roost areas. One of the things they do is collect monarchs at the roost sites and then get an idea of where they originated from. They then posted a note on this and came out with a bilateral agreement last fall between the Canadians and the Mexicans. I read their note and posted my own message saying what I thought that meant. I wasn't right on, but I was pretty close to what it meant. About two months later they contacted me and said 'We think we could use some cooperation from people raising monarchs all over the country and then sending them in.' We also needed some controlled stugy. I said, 'I can help you with the controlled study' which we did last semester."

How do the isotopes work in this case?
We started rearing milkweed on isotopically labeled enhanced water (deuteriated water) by using isotope product which has a certain level of deuterium in it, dilute this and use it to dilute the water sources. We used three concentrations of deuterium in the water to raise the milkweed plants, and the butterflies.

So we have three levels of deuterium in kind of a controlled system, so we know what the deuterium input is in the water, in the plant, and in the gestation of the butterflies. We are going to use this as the controlled check against everything that is being reared out there by people from all over the country. -Chip Taylor

The University of Kansas prepares all of the materials which are shipped out to the more than 90 sites nationwide.

Mating Cage - filled with male and female monarchs. Contains a tray of hermeculite potting material and water to maintain the humidity in the cage. Also contains a tray of a juice made of vitamin C, sugars, and preservatives for the Monarchs to drink.
Privacy chambers - once the monarchs in the mating cage begin to mate they are removed and placed into these privacy chambers until they separate. The males are then placed back into the mating cage.
Oviposition chambers - The females are placed into these chambers after mating. They contain milkweed plants and a tray of juice. Females will lay their eggs on the leaves of the Milkweed every three days. The plants with eggs are then removed and decontaminated with a solution of 400ml distilled water and 10ml clorox.
Egg cups - the eggs are placed into these small cups. The color of the cup changes every three days so that the approximate age of the eggs can be determined. The amount of isotope in the artifical diet used in these cups is changed every five days.

The eggs are then mailed out to the testing sites.