Monarch: On the Trail of North American Royalty

A visual environmental journey by trevor ritland

In the autumn of 2017, I filled my car with camera gear, field guides, and butterfly nets and set off on a journey to follow the path of the monarch butterfly’s migration across the state of Arizona. Along the way, I talked with conservationists, citizen scientists, and local stakeholders to learn more about the important role the monarch plays in our collective consciousness as an icon for ecological biodiversity and imperiled species in the modern world. Explore the photos and videos below to learn more about this expedition.

This short film from autumn 2017 briefly explores the wide range of individuals and organizations working to protect the monarch butterfly from contemporary environmental threats and considers our collective fascination with the winged icon.

Origins of the journey

My first experiences with butterflies were mediated by my father, an entomologist who made a name for himself studying mimicry in monarch and viceroy butterflies in southern Florida. Growing up, my twin brother and I spent our weekends chasing rare color morphs and hybrid species (pictured above) through wetlands and roadside flower patches. When I moved west after college, I was surprised and delighted to discover the monarch as far west as Arizona and California. Hoping to share the story of this iconic species, I spent the fall of 2017 working with conservationists and scientists across the state of Arizona to learn how they are working to protect the monarch.

Above: citizen scientists with the Southwest Monarch Study and the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy participate in butterfly counting and tagging events in Show Low and outside Phoenix, Arizona in September 2017 - a key migration period for pollinators.

While these environments may appear empty and barren, they are in fact vitally important habitats for monarchs and other pollinators.

While scientists and researchers have observed a concerning decline in monarch populations across the US, citizen scientists are turning out to do their part in securing a place for the monarch on the North American landscape. There are threats. There is hope.


To find out more about the monarch butterfly or to lend your hand to citizen science conservation efforts in Arizona and beyond, please explore the following links: