Researchers are asking for the public to report wintertime sightings of monarch butterflies in an attempt to better understand the famous, yet now threatened, insects.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ruled that the monarch belongs on the federal list of threatened and endangered species, but will not be yet due to pending work on other, more pressing candidates. That decision has been controversial, as national media have reported.

A monarch butterfly. (Linda May/Georgia Department of Natural Resources)

The familiar orange-and-black monarchs are known for their seasonal mass migrations, where they fly south to Mexico in the winter and fly north to the U.S. and Canada in the spring to breed. Scientists have found declining populations in those locations, according to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

According to DNR, not all monarchs make that migration. Some breed through the winter in the southern U.S. and there are “scattered reports” of some butterflies spending the winter in the region “in a non-productive state,” the DNR said in a press release.

To better understand the monarchs’ behavior and what it might mean for the survival of the species, a coalition of agencies is asking members of the public throughout the South to report any monarch sightings that happen in December through March.

Partners in the “citizen science” program include the DNR, the University of Georgia, the Wisconsin-based migration-tracking group Journey North and Monarchs Across Georgia, a program of Roswell-based Environmental Education Alliance of Georgia.

For more information and details on submitting reports online, see the Journey North website at journeynorth.org.

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.