Monarch flies 800 miles to perch in yard of WSU alumni who resea - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Monarch flies 800 miles to perch in yard of WSU alumni who researched it

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PROSSER, WA - When a butterfly dines in a homeowner’s garden, that’s not unusual. But when some internal compass guides that winged visitor into the yard of Kathy Keatley Garvey in northern California, it’s downright remarkable.

“‘What are the odds? What are the odds?’ kept going through my mind. I was totally amazed to see it,” recalled Keatley Garvey of the recent afternoon she spotted the monarch butterfly sipping nectar from a Mexican sunflower outside her home in Vacaville.

Affixed to the elegant orange and black insect’s wing was an adhesive tag the size of a small fingernail that read: A6093.

This monarch was from Keatley Garvey’s alma mater, Washington State University, located some 800 miles away. What’s more, two years earlier she had written a story about a monarch study underway at WSU. Now, one of the study’s subjects was perched on a blossom just four feet away.

“I wanted to do a happy dance or a pirouette,” said Keatley Garvey, a science writer for the University of California-Davis’ department of entomology and nematology who also happens to be an insect photographer and author of the popular blog, “Bug Squad.”

Later that day, WSU entomologist David James read Keatley Garvey’s email saying that A6093 had lingered in her yard all afternoon.

He recalled how, on Oct. 17, 2014, she had featured his research in a blog article encouraging readers to be on the lookout for tagged monarchs. The story explained that James was spearheading a study in which volunteers were tagging and releasing Pacific Northwest monarchs to track their mysterious migratory paths.

“I immediately recognized Kathy’s name and it took a few seconds for it to sink in,” he said. “It’s one of the biggest surprises of my research career.”

That’s because, of the 3,000 butterflies tagged and released by volunteers during August and September, monarch A6093 was among them. It had fluttered its way into the yard of a science writer and bug lover who had graduated from WSU and who, decades later, wrote about his research.

A6093 had been released seven days earlier from Ashland, Ore., James determined. The male monarch stopped by Keatley Garvey’s garden to consume enough calories to power the rest of its flight to the California coast to overwinter, he explained.

Weighing less than a dime, “it flew almost 41 miles each day to get to Kathy’s house,” he said.