The "State" of Arizona Monarchs


The state of monarchs in Arizona is hopeful! The first monarch sightings in Arizona were typically low in early summer. But during July they increased with monarchs flourishing in Prescott and also the Sierra Vista region in southeast Arizona. By the end of July, monarchs had appeared in Camp Verde, Cottonwood, Sedona and Show Low, too.

Early August brought more good news with monarch sightings in Flagstaff, Springerville and Safford. These first sightings of summer are good signs of a wide breadth of monarchs across Arizona this year for the Fall migration. In comparison, in 2019 Prescott saw just a few monarchs while Safford saw none. A few monarchs were seen in Tucson this month as well. The lower deserts of Phoenix, Yuma and Lake Havasu were devoid of monarchs, a harbinger of the sizzling high temperatures of the season.

This news is especially welcome due to the temperature and precipitation extremes we’ve faced this summer. Record highs scorched most of Arizona in June while the healing balm of our summer monsoon rainy season was delayed this year, framing often disappointing early season monarch sightings in the field. When the rains finally arrived, they lingered only a short time and once again retreated, opening the state up to another round of record and near record high temperatures. Why do temperatures and rain matter? It’s all about quality habitat and both affects healthy milkweed and nectar plants. We’re still hoping a late monsoon surge will help knee-high sunflowers around rural Arizona excel and bloom for the migration right around the corner. Coupled with rabbitbrush in the higher elevation and desert broom in the deserts, and other fall nectar delights, monarchs will be able to feast and refuel on their journey to the overwintering grounds.


When to Tag?


Through Citizen Science monarch tagging, the Southwest Monarch Study has learned that your best chance of a recovery in California or Mexico is tagging perfect looking monarchs with good, rich coloring beginning one month before the peak migration through your area. Worn monarchs or those missing scales or having chipped wings are often breeders that will not migrate. When is the peak migration where you live? Based on the data returned by over 18,500+ tagged monarchs, here are the dates of peak migration. Remember these days may fluctuate if strong winds or other events suppress monarch movement.



You can order tags for Arizona at this link:

You can learn how to tag here (and we’ll be hosting free Zoom training sessions soon):

Tagging monarchs and Covid-19:

Conservation Activities


Planting milkweed and sunflowers as part of our NFWF grant screeched to a halt with the Covid-19 flare-up in the state in late May through summer. The Southwest Monarch Study applied for a grant extension that looks hopeful according to NFWF and we are waiting for final approval. Many NGO’s are also applying for extensions due to Covid-19 creating a backlog. We are hopeful we’ll be able to move forward quickly as soon as it is healthy for everyone to be back in the field.


It’s too early to tell for certain, but so far there are fewer Spring monarch sightings reported in Arizona this spring compared to last year. Most early sighting in 2020s were in the greater Tucson and Phoenix areas but early May brought the first sighting of a monarch in Prescott as well as fresh and new monarchs eclosing in Phoenix and Tucson.


On May 7 the first monarch of the season appeared in Pinetop, Arizona at just under 7000 feet elevation near the eastern border. They are on their way now to the summer breeding grounds! Are the numbers lower because the pandemic has more people staying home or are there really fewer monarchs? Or both? Soon we’ll know.

Look for monarchs to appear in the higher elevations of Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon any day. Sightings are usually fleeting and many people do not see the adults but do witness their offspring on newly emerged milkweed. By July monarchs will be found in the summer breeding grounds in the White Mountains, Flagstaff and Grand Canyon as well as the Southeast Arizona higher elevations above 5,500 feet.


Keep an eye out and let us know what you find when you are out and about hiking or vacationing. Every year the Southwest Monarch Study monitors the major breeding habitats for an early indicator of the monarch population for the fall migration.


The Southwest Monarch Study, energized with a NFWF grant, partnered with Gila Watershed Partnership to provide native milkweed to Arizona State Parks, Arizona Game and Fish and other public land agencies. We also provided native Common Sunflower, Helianthus annuus, for Fall nectar as well as monarch educational signage as part of the grant provisions.


We updated milkweed/flower guides for Arizona as well as created a new Educators link on our website,

Garden clubs and Nature centers around the state featured butterfly gardening training and planned seasonal educational events for Spring and Summer. The City of Mesa completed its installation of a new Monarch Haven & Reading Sanctuary outside the Red Mountain Library filled with native milkweed and nectar resources as well as new educational signage.


Then the Covid-19 Pandemic struck dousing the fever of activity. One by one, all special monarch event plans were cancelled around the state for Spring and much of Summer.


Every April there are numerous Earth Day events around the Arizona with information tables about monarchs, pollinators and planting guides to support them. This year they were all cancelled with the Covid-19 “Stay at Home” orders. So, the Southwest Monarch Study decided to give back to the community by offering FREE seeds by mail for home gardens for Earth Week encouraging everyone get outside.


Volunteers with seeds around the state pooled resources to offer Common Sunflower (Helianthus annuus), Zinnias (Zinnia elegans), Cosmos (Cosmos sulphureus), as well as Arizona Milkweed (A. angustifolia) and Horsetail Milkweed (A. subverticillata) for Earth Week.  Directions for success were included. (Note: Not all milkweeds in Arizona need cold-stratification so even milkweed seed was an opportunistic choice.)


Every year Sharon in Camp Verde grows native milk milkweed from seeds she collects the previous year. “Every spring, I like to start milkweed from seeds that I’ve collected the previous year.  I’m most successful with Arizona Milkweed (Asclepius angustifolia).  I donate hundreds of seedlings to the annual Monsoon Madness plant sale (held in summer) for the Yavapai Master Gardeners Association.” After this event was cancelled due to COVID 19 stay-at-home directives, I needed to find a home for over 200 seedlings. 


A few calls led to enthusiastic requests for the seedlings, including three public gardens in the area:  Cottonwood Community Garden, the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Veterans Administration Butterfly Garden in Prescott.  The rest were delivered to Master Gardeners and Monarch enthusiasts across Yavapai County.  On May 6, we held a “drive-through” distribution of the remaining milkweed.  Reservations made ahead by email were tabulated and plants were safely handed over to the driver with no direct personal contact.  We raised almost $200 for the Yavapai Master Gardener Association!”


Look for news about the progress of the Spring and Fall monarch migration in the West weekly on Journey North! This is a great Citizen Science opportunity to provide sighting information of adult monarchs and their immatures as well as milkweed across the entire United States. The data is invaluable and has been collected for over 15 years revealing the ebbs and flows of monarch presence over time.


During both the Fall and Spring migration Gail Morris of the Southwest Monarch Study will collect sightings and your stories to weave a narrative of monarch movement as they progress through each state. Submit your sightings to Journey North  and send an email to Gail with additional details you’d like to share at


Butterfly Wonderland is continuing to educate guests with the Flight of the Butterfly movie, education cards and brochures about monarchs and monarch gardening. They now also include items about monarch education and conservation in their education cart.

IMMP (Integrated Monarch Monitoring Program)

Training will be available through the Southwest Monarch Study on-line this Spring. What is IMMP? You can learn more here Contact us at for more information about this important nationwide monitoring program. The Southwest Monarch Study will be supporting IMMP training with local Zoom meetings.


Information about the Arizona Monarch Collaborative can be found at


A Citizen (Community) Science nonprofit organization studying the migration and breeding patterns of monarch butterflies in Arizona and the Southwestern United States. Everyone is welcome to participate. Tagging monarchs may look different this year! Visit us at or email

Visit our FB page for up to date information:

Monarchs Arizona Facebook Page

  • Monarchs Arizona Facebook
Videos about the Western Monarch Summit

The information in this state update was provided by Gail Morris, Please contact her for additional information about the update.


Help Us Conserve the

Western Monarch

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service received a petition to list the monarch butterfly under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  Their decision is due December 2020.

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WMA provides and updates the information on these pages as a vehicle to encourage people to seek and interact with each other. We make no representation other than that.  This is not a formal "clearing house" where all information is vetted or approved by another organization or government entity.

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