Some time in early March, millions of monarch butterflies, Danaus plexippus, overwintering in dense cascades high up in the the Transvolcanic Mountains of central Mexico, sense it is time to begin mating in preparation for the year's migration north. This is the time they emerge from their state of reproductive diapause, that is a non-reproductive state. Scientists suspect the lengthening daylight and warmer temperatures signal the time to begin mating. These are the same monarchs that emerged from the pupae nearly 9 months previously somewhere in northern United States or southern Canada.
The life cycle migration home is a journey fraught with peril all along their way north and then back again to the oyamel fir forests where the eastern migration waits out the winter. Monarch butterflies live across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, in Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand and throughout South and Central America, but it is only the North American monarch that migrates.
Discovering the Monarch's Winter Home
Scientists know when the monarchs arrive in Mexico and in what numbers. They know what they do during the winter and the effects of bird predation and adverse weather effects. And they know when they depart north again, beginning the annual migration. There are still many things scientists and the public don't know: we don't know much of the how or the why of this amazing migration. With every beat of their iconic wings during every phase of their life span. this is the story of the perils monarchs face to be able to survive today.
We didn't always know where monarchs migrated to. Did they hibernate somewhere, or lay eggs and die with the new monarchs winging their way north? How did overwintering monarchs somehow manage to live active lives eight to nine times longer than the monarchs we see during the summer months in the U.S. and Canada?
It was only since 1975 that their Mexican wintering grounds were known much outside the immediate local area. Overwintering sites for monarchs provide just the right habitat for their survival, but it's not foolproof. Elevation, climate, trees, shrubs, undergrowth, water sources, fog and clouds all combine for a favorable monarch winter habitat. Perhaps thousands of years ago, monarchs headed south in search of cool and moist locations to winter over, as they cannot survive a wet freeze. Or maybe as ice sheets receded the planet warmed they flew further and further north. Those are just a few of the unanswered questions.
Overwintering in Mexico, monarchs prefer the higher elevations, up to 10,500 feet. The oyamel fir forests of the Transvolcanic Mountains of central Mexico, west of Mexico City and just west and north of Toluca, is one region in which the air temperature is cool enough (but not too cold) to lower their metabolism. Ample streams are able to provide monarchs the water they need during warm winter days.
The wintering site of the Californian, or Western Migration has been known for a long time. The wintering site of the Western migration consists of around 100 sites along the California coast in groves of nonnative eucalyptus, although they also use native trees such as Monterey pine, Monterey cypress, and redwood.
The search for the Mexican site begin in 1937. Dr. Fred Urquhart (a Canadian zoologist) and his wife Norah began to study the monarch butterfly with the aim of finding the wintering site of the Eastern Migration. They started off by tagging monarchs with home-made tags. Through a process of trial and error, they discovered better methods of tagging. In 1952, Dr. Urquhart wrote an article, “Marked Monarchs” to enlist help in tagging. By 1971, six hundred volunteers were helping tag monarchs with tags that included tiny identifying numbers and the request to return the found butterflies to “Zoology University, Toronto, Canada.”
Gradually, over time, migration patterns through the United States and Canada emerged, however, they still had no idea where the monarchs wintered over. Finally, in 1972, Norah Urquhart wrote to Mexican newspapers explaining the monarch project and requested help. In 1973, Kenneth Bruger from Mexico City responded saying he would help. For two years Bruger crisscrossed the Mexican countryside in his motor home looking for clustering monarchs. Finally, on January 9, 1975, Bruger telephoned from Mexico with the exciting news he and his wife, Catalina, have located a colony in Cerro Pelón, in the state of Michoacan – millions of them. Further exploration netted five resting sites in all including Cincua and El Rosario. (Catalina appeared on the cover of the National Geographic story with the monarchs. Read about their discovery here as told by Catalina Trail, formerly Bruger).
In early 1976, Dr. Urquhart and his wife Norah, along with the Brugers, finally made it to a village mountain hotel in the Sierra Madre. Advanced in years, he hope he wouldn't be overcome with a heart attack with the strain of excitement at finally seeing the winter site as he trekked up to 10,000 feet.
Dr. Urquhart describes his first siting: “Then we saw them. Masses of butterflies – everywhere in the quietness of semi-dormancy, they festooned the tree branches, they enveloped the oyamel trunks, they carpeted the ground in the tremendous legions. Other multitudes – those that now on the verge of spring had begun to feel immemorial urge to fly north – filled the air with their sun-shot wings, shimmering against the blue mountain sky and drifting across our vision in blizzard flakes of orange and black.”
“While we stared in wonder, a pine branch three inches thick broke under its burden of languid butterflies and crashed to earth, spilling its living cargo. I stooped to examine the mass of dislodged monarchs. There to my amazement, was one bearing a tag!”
“By incredible chance I had stumbled on a butterfly tagged by one Jim Gilbert, far away in Chaska Minnesota. (“Found at Last, the Monarch's Winter Home”, Dr. Fred A. Urquhart, Ph.D., National Geographic, August, 1976.) Finding this tagged monarch butterfly proved the theory of the migrating monarchs.
While there, they tagged over a 1000 butterflies. A few months later in April, 1976, two of the tagged monarchs were recovered in northern Texas, a thousand miles away. After returning, Urquhart wrote an article for the National Geographic describing this amazing discovery. However, he did not describe exactly where it was the monarchs overwinter. Urquhart and his party knew, but they chose not to disclose it to the public. (Cover, at left, from the National Geographic that broke the news of this discovery.)
His story piqued the interest of Dr. Lincoln Brower. Even after writing to Dr. Urquhart, he would not disclose the location. Taking two clues from Dr. Uquhart's article, the state of Michoacan and the elevation of 10,000 ft., Brower and Dr. William Calvert was able to identify several possible sites. Brower and Calvert (along with friends and Mexican experts) made their way in a “beat-up borrowed truck” from Texas to the village of Angangueo and trekked up the mountain. There, Brower and Calvert found a colony, the Cincua colony, of millions of monarchs, even though the National Geographic article mention the Sierra Madre Mountains, not the Transvolcanic Belt Mountains of the Sierra Nevada. (Letter to Journey North.) From this point forward, the scientific world was able to gauge and monitor the monarch population like never before.
Most winters, conditions are just right for hundreds of millions of monarchs to thrive. Sometimes nature throws a curve that causes costly monarch decline, even before they begin their perilous journey. Compounded with the thinning and clearing of the forests and forest fires, monarch's ability to survive colder than normal storms is compromised. (Graph at left from Journey North site.)
Mid January, 2002, an unusually strong cold front moved through the central Mexican mountains, encompassing the monarch wintering sites. Monarch scientists have been monitoring monarchs since the later 1970's to accumulate data. Shortly after the storm broke, the scientists visited several of the sites to assess the situation. They witnessed the forest floor covered with monarchs and monarchs periodically falling from the trees to the ground. They returned at different intervals to estimate monarch mortality. As the days and weeks progressed, they estimated 80% of the monarchs in all of Mexico's wintering sites had died. (Catastrophic Winter Storm Mortality of Monarch Butterflies in Mexico during January 2002)
Compounding the impact of the winter storm was the effects of tree thinning in these forests. “The extensive deforestation appears to have disrupted the hydrology of the entire Canoas watershed on this part of Cerro Pelón. Thus monarchs, heavily impacted by the January storm in the exposed remnant oyamel pine forest, had moved down into an area where they normally would have access to water, which was now severely dessicated.” The areas sampled for monarch storm mortality were greater where the trees stands were thinner, than heavier stands. (Catastrophic Winter Storm Mortality of Monarch Butterflies in Mexico during January 2002, page 162)
No one assumes that cold fronts only began to adversely effect monarch population numbers the past few decades, but has happened periodically throughout the past. However, based on the findings by scientists after the January 2002 winter storm, they determined mortality is greater within areas of thinning stands due to fire and logging, whether legal or illegal. Fortunately, monarch populations do rebound from such natural disasters.
After the discovery of the central Mexican mountains as the wintering grounds for the monarchs, people sought to protect monarch habitat from logging and other intrusions into this niche ecosystem. Much of the wintering site has been designated a conservation area, the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve. In 2008, the reserve was designated a World Heritage Site, offering additional protections against illegal logging.
In February, 2015, there was estimated to be 57 million monarchs overwintering in central Mexico. Of the 12 overwintering sites, half of this year's butterflies are residing in only one site, the El Rosario sanctuary. To give this perspective, “half of our continent's migratory monarchs in Mexico are clustered together in an area the size of 1.5 football fields” (Journey North). Just when it was thought the temperatures were warming up sufficiently, a cold front and hail storm blew over several of the Mexican overwintering sites, causing some delay and monarch mortality. This year in 2015, the monarch migration started March 26 with a mass departure, later than usual and the latest ever recorded. (Chart at right of monarch numbers in Mexico from 1994-2014 from Journey North).
A piece of the migration puzzle was recently add to the picture. A recent genetic study reported in the October 1, 2014 issue of the journal Nature announced they found a single gene relating to migration. “Sequencing the genomes of monarch butterflies from around the world, a team of scientists has now made surprising new insights into the monarch’s genetics. They identified a single gene that appears central to migration—a behavior generally regarded as complex—and another that controls pigmentation.” The gene at least partially credited with allowing the possibility of long distance flight was discovered. “Migratory butterflies expressed greatly reduced levels of collagen IV α-1, a gene involved in flight muscle formation and function. The team discovered that migratory monarchs consumed less oxygen and had significantly lowered flight metabolic rates, which likely increases their ability to fly long distances compared to non-migratory butterflies.” (UChicagoNews.) Over time, doubtless, more answers will be discovered.
The Perils in Migration
Once the migration begins, monarchs face other perils to their existence. Leaving the protective canopy of oyamel fir forests in March, the eastern monarch migration encompasses an astonishing 3000 mile journey up to summer breeding grounds and back to their winter habitat. The migration funnels through nearly the entirety of Texas up through the Great Plains into Canada, along the Mississippi to the Great Lakes, up through both sides of the eastern mountain ranges as far north as Ontario, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Maine, and along the Gulf Coast States and into Florida. In other words, most the eastern United States. (Monarch migration chart, at left, from MonarchWatch.org.)
The western migration begins from the Pacific Coastal areas of California where they fly north and east through the states of California, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona and western Colorado, up to the canyons of the Rocky Mountains.
The butterflies that begin their journey are already 7-8 months old, having begun their lives during the previous late summer or fall in Canada or the US before making their way to Mexico. They mate before beginning their journey and begin to lay their eggs. Along the way they are in urgent need of nectar to replenish the fat used over the winter. The life of these overwintering monarchs will end in late April.
The first 2015 monarch sitings reported in Texas occurred April 2, a full 2 weeks late. By April 16th, monarchs were reported in Illinois and throughout Texas, however, there were no citizen scientist reports for the Texas Panhandle to the Journey North website. Monarch normally reach the Texas Panhandle by the first part in April, however, this year, a little later. Neal Hinders at Canyon's Edge Plants in Canyon, TX said he and his staff saw one or two monarchs this spring. The milkweed population is critical to the numbers of monarchs in this first generation on the migration. These overwintered monarchs (in Mexico) rarely travel further than the 38°N latitude (Amarillo is at 35°N). By this time their wing color has faded and often is tattered.
The metamorphosis of a monarch butterfly is accomplished in four stages, the egg, larva (caterpillar), pupa (chrysalis), the adult butterfly and takes about 30 days to complete the cycle. This year, by May 16-25th, the children of the overwintering monarchs have made their way to Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Ontario, Canada. By the first week of June, the next generation of monarchs have emerged, the grandchildren of the overwintering monarchs. By June 11, the migration has expanded from 3 acres of winter habitat in Mexico, to 3 billion acres throughout the U.S. and Canada. They've reached Manitoba at the 50°N latitude. Other monarchs take a more easterly route all the way to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, to the furthest extent of milkweed habitat. (Chart at left from Journey North website.) (Photo at right of native milkweed, most likely showy milkweed, Asclepia speciosa, in the Butterfly Garden of the Amarillo Botanical Garden.)
Although monarch butterflies lay their eggs solely on one type of plant, plants belonging to the milkweed family, the adult butterflies require nectar as their food source. They are not particular about the flowers themselves, just that they produce nectar. As the monarchs fly north, they search for milkweed plants to lay from an average of 100-300 tiny whitish eggs on leaves generally near the top of the plant (usually one egg per plant). Within three to eight days (depending on temperature) the egg hatches into a tiny stage one caterpillar.
The caterpillar begins by first eating the outer casing of the egg and then begins to eat the milkweed leaves, growing and shedding its outer skin as it grows. The molted skins are eaten by the caterpillar as well.
Each molting stage is called an instar – there are five instar stages in all. The stages are determined by the size of the caterpillar's tentacles. The fifth instar larva measures from 25mm to 45mm, that is, from 1” to 1 ¾” long. The five instar stages take from 9-16 days. The fifth stage instar forms the pupa, from which the adult butterfly emerges. Interestingly, monarchs rarely pupate on milkweed. The monarch instars or caterpillars are colored with black, yellow and white stripes -- no green stripes. They have two pairs of black tentacles, a longer set at the front, and a pair of in the rear. It is easy to confuse Queen butterfly, Danaus gilippus, which is also a milkweed butterfly. The queen caterpillars have a third set of tentacles in between the front and back, and the caterpillar color patterns are slightly different; chrysalis is very close in appearance to the monarch. (Photos at right are of different instar stages of monarch caterpillar, or larvae). The pupation period lasts from 8-15 days. After forming a pupa or chrysalis, if one is fortunate enough to observe it daily, you will notice changes each day. Once the chrysalis darkens, the newly formed butterfly is visible. It takes only a few minutes for it to "eclose", that is break out of the chrysalis. (Series of photos at left, courtesy of Linda Richards.)
In the first instar stage, the tiny larvae is nearly translucent. It isn't until the larvae begins to eat the milkweed itself and sheds it's skin that the familiar caterpillar with black, yellow and while strips emerges. The milkweed gives the monarch its “monarchness”. Scientists don't know exactly how much of the “monarchness” is imparted by the milkweed, but they do know that without milkweed, there would be no monarchs. Likely, a combination of milkweed chemicals and the genes of monarchs make up their “monarchness” (Nature). (Photo at left is of Butterflyweed, Asclepsia tuberosa from the Monarch Waystation at Canyon's Edge Plants.)
A substance in the milkweed, cardenolides, makes the monarch larvae toxic to most vertebrates. Cardenolides, cardiac glycosides, imparts a bitter taste and when bitten by birds, some will disgorge. Over time, most vertebrates have learned not to ingest monarchs, is it thought. However, monarch larvae have several invertebrate predators, such as some species of flies, wasps, ambush bugs, assassin bugs, spiders and some stink bugs. Of the birds, the California towhee will feed on the larvae, and the Cassin's kingbird, rufous-sided towhee, chestnut-backed chickadees, starings and scrub jays will eat the adult monarch. (Monarchprogram.org)
Monarchs are also susceptible to a parasite, the native protozoan, Ophryocistis elektroscirrha, referred to as OE. The monarchs of the western migration and those overwintering in Florida are most susceptible. Monarchs that feed on tropical milkweeds, Asclepias curassavica, have a higher rate of OE disease.
The perils continues when monarchs begin their search of milkweed. Although there are about a 100 native species of milkweed to North America, milkweed habitat and the milkweeds themselves occupy a greatly reduced amount of acreage compared to a hundred years ago. Monarchs broad migration range is, or was, also milkweed habitat. Where once was millions of acres of prairie plants, including milkweed, now are fields and fields of agricultural crops. Even milkweed in strips of wildness along roadsides and hedgerows of crops are denuded of milkweed through agricultural and highway roadside weed cutting and spraying. The weed cutting and spraying usually occurs about the same time the larva, or caterpillars are eating their way up to pupae stage. In effect, the caterpillars are being mowed down. (Photo at right of monarch caterpillar in the "J" formation about to form a chrysalis.)
Monarchs fly during the day and towards evening look for places to come down for the night, to eat and rest. The reduction in habitat leaves few alternatives for laying their eggs on disappearing milkweed for the next generation to complete the migration or to replenish their energy reserves by eating nectar. In urban locations during the summer months, many communities engage in an active mosquito spraying campaign. Any butterflies up and about during these nightly spraying sessions will realize the same result as the mosquito. (Photo at left is a pupae or chrysalis just formed from the caterpillar in the "J" position, this photo series of chrysalis and eclosing courtesy of Linda Richards.)
Perilous Feeding Fields
The high count for eastern migrating monarchs was reached in 1996 with a total of 910 million, according to Journey North. The lowest population recorded was in December, 2013 at just 33 million monarchs at the overwintering sites in Mexico. This past December, the number was up slightly to 57 million monarchs. Approximately 300 million monarchs is estimated to be the 20 year average. Scientists assume population counts of monarchs have varied from year to year. Data from 1994 to 2014 show the current population fluctuation. The goal of the many organizations that make up the Monarch Joint Venture project is for the monarch population to stabilize at the 300 million average.
Many people equate the introduction of neonicotinoid pesticides as being a significant contributor of monarch decline. Imidacloprid was the first neonic sold in North America, introduced in 1994. Thiamethoxam was introduced in 2001, clothianidin in 2003 and dinotefuran in 2005. Other neonics are acetamiprid, nitenpyram and thiocloprid. The neonicotinoid pesticides were introduced in agriculture as a “safer” alternative; their effectiveness is longer therefore the frequency of spraying is decreased. However, many studies have shown that neonicotinoid pesticides severely impact pollinator populations, which includes butterflies.
A study published in the Journal Nature in July, 2014, pointed out declines in birds who feed on insects that have been exposed to neonicotinoids. (Birds feed heavily on insects for protein during mating and rearing of their young.)
Neonicotinoids are also used in home landscapes. Many of the Bayer group of home landscape insecticides contain neonicotinoids. Other neonicotinoid products are manufactured by Ortho, Fertilome, Green Light, Hi-Yield and others. For a list of commonly used products, click here. Products approved for use to homeowners can contain up to 32 times the amounts approved for agricultural use. (Monarch Joint Venture.) Also please note that organically approved pesticides can be harmful to bees. (Organic Approved Pesticides, Xerces Society)
In agriculture, “neonicotinoids and fipronil currently account for approximately one third (in monetary terms in 2010) of the world insecticide market (Simon-Delso et al. 2014). They are applied in many ways, including seed coating, bathing, foliar spray applications, soil drench applications and trunk injection. These compounds are used for insect pest management across hundreds of crops in agriculture, horticulture and forestry. They are also widely used to control insect pests and disease vectors of companion animals, livestock and aquaculture and for urban and household insect pest control and timber conservation (Simon-Delso et al. 2014).” (Conclusions of the Worldwide Integrated Assessment on the risks of neonicotinoids and fipronil to biodiversity and ecosystem functioning.) (Photo at left is whorled milkweed, Asclepias verticillata from the Monarch Waystation at Canyon's Edge Plants in Canyon, TX.)
A meta-analysis of 1,121 peer-reviewed studies released by the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides confirms neonics are a key factor in bee declines and are harming beneficial organisms essential to functional ecosystems and food production, including soil microbes, butterflies, earthworms, reptiles, and birds. (Task Force on Systemic Use of Pesticides, Worldwide Integrated Assessment)
The trends and increasing uses of neonics and fipronil, also a systemic pesticide, can be viewed by scrolling down this section of the Task Force report from the early 1990's. A rise in the use of systemic insecticides may be correlated to the decrease in overall monarch population.
Systemic insecticides are used in many ways. “In agriculture, horticulture, tree nursery and forestry, neonicotinoids and fipronil can be applied in many different ways such as (foliar) spraying, seed dressing, seed pilling, soil treatment, granular application, dipping of seedlings, chemigation, (soil) drenching, furrow application, trunk injections in trees, mixing with irrigation water, drenching of flower bulbs and application with a brush on the stems of fruit trees.” For just one example of the extensive use, nearly 100% of corn crops in North America is treated with neonicotinoids by seed coating (.2% not coated in organic corn production). (Task Force Report.)
It has even become perilous for migrating monarchs to feast on nectar in gardens planted by pollinator friendly gardeners. Because the decline of honey bee populations has been in the news the past several years, one of the biggest trends in home gardening is to plant pollinator friendly and nature-friendly gardens, especially butterfly gardens. During the recent past, more and more nursery plants, including flowering nectar plants for butterflies and other pollinators, are sprayed and treated with neonicotinoid insecticides. Researchers from Friends of the Earth published Gardeners Beware 2014, a report exposing to the public that many bee-friendly plants (as well as vegetable plants, trees and shrubs) sold at big box stores, such as Home Depot, Lowes and Walmart, were treated with neonicotinoids at nurseries where these plants were grown. Home Depot finally took the step of informing its customers by having a tag inserted with each neonic-treated plant. This group of insecticides have a long lasting residual both throughout all parts of the plants, including flowers, pollen and nectar, and even in the soil. Yes, the pollen and nectar of these treated plants contain the neonicotinoid chemicals. Neonics can persist in soil and plants for months after application, even up to SIX YEARS in woody plants! (my emphasis). Neonic insecticides applied to your rose bush can affect nearby plants and soil. (Minnesota Public Radio.) Canyon's Edge Plants at 1401 5th Avenue in Canyon, TX supplies the area with neonic-free xeric, native and other great garden plants, including a host of nectar plants.
The late summer and early fall months are critical times in the monarch life cycle. It is thought the factors of the milkweed's chemical composition, sun angle, day length and cooler temperatures signals monarchs to go into reproductive diapause and prepare to head south. This final generation of monarchs must stock up on enough nectar to not only fly hundreds of miles south to Mexico, but to also store enough fat in their abdomen to be able to overwinter. With millions of butterflies clustered in one small area high up in the Transvolcanic Mountains, their isn't enough nectar plants to feed the thinner monarchs during the winter. They've adapted by stocking up fat stores before arriving for the winter. If sufficient quantities of chemical free nectar isn't available along their route, these monarchs die sometime in-route or during the winter of starvation.
Need for a Change
Why should we humans even be concerned about this one insect species, pretty though it is? After all, there are a lot of butterflies. With the announcement of an initiative aimed at saving the periled monarch, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service said “the monarch serves as an indicator of the health of pollinators and the American landscape. Monarch declines are symptomatic of environmental problems that pose risks to our food supply, the spectacular natural places that help define our national identity, and our own health. Conserving and connecting habitat for monarchs will benefit other plants, animals and important insect and avian pollinators.” (Press release, U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, February 9, 2015).
Our North American Monarch, Dannaus plexippus plexippus, isn't classified as an endangered species, but it it has been classified as being vulnerable to extinction. A new assessment of the monarch prepared for the U.S. Forest Service's report Conservation Status and Ecology of the Monarch Butterfly in the United States, summarizes the monarch’s North American distribution, life history, population, current conservation status, and potential causes of decline. The report concludes the eastern monarch population was assessed as “critically imperiled” due to recent rapid decline and widespread threats. The western population, with a slightly slower rate of decline and less widespread threats, was categorized as “vulnerable to imperiled.”
The report further summarizes “Thus despite the species as a whole being apparently secure, the two major populations at the heart of the range [the eastern and western migrations] are now threatened with extinction. The subspecies that includes these two populations, Danaus plexippus plexippus, is also vulnerable to extinction” (Conservation status and Ecology of the Monarch Butterfly, page 1).
Become a Citizen Scientist – More Data Needed
Help is needed by home naturalists in gathering and reporting data on monarchs and milkweeds. Since 2000, two thirds of papers on field-based research outside of the Mexican Reserve used citizen science data. The citizen science page on the Monarch Joint Venture sites describes several ways to help. One way to become involved in the Texas Panhandle area is to report milkweed, monarch egg, larvae and butterfly sitings to Journey North. Another is to assist in tagging monarchs during the fall leg of their migration through the Monarch Watch site. Monarchs usually pass through the Texas Panhandle in September and October on their way back to Mexico. The Native Plant Society of Texas has recently joined the Monarch Joint Venture Project and have launched their campaign -- Bring Back the Monarch to Texas. Grant money is available from NSPOT for planting Monarch Waystations. Since most of the monarchs funnel through Texas, Texas is a critical region for monarchs both on their spring and fall migrations.
If you're unable to plant a Monarch Waystation or chem-free nectar plants, all these organizations will gladly accept donations or other help.
In reporting on monarch butterflies, correct identification is essential. Two butterflies similar in appearance to the monarchs are often mistaken for being a monarch. These are the queen, Danaus gilippus and the soldier, Danaus eresimus. Particularly, in the Texas Panhandle, queens are often mistaken for monarchs.
The Monarch Larva Monitoring Project is another way to get involved. For those who are interested in reporting on all the moths and butterflies they see, there's a organization that needs your help too, The Butterflies and Moths of North America site. A few minutes browsing the Internet will connect you to the organization that best fits your interests.
To offset the loss of monarch habitat for both laying eggs and nectar feeding, consider planting and registering a Monarch Waystation. The Monarch Waystations could be planted at your home, at schools, businesses, parks, zoos, nature centers, along roadsides and in vacant lots. Planting a Monarch Waystation at schools is a great idea to involve school age children and to connect them to nature. Visit the Monarch Watch site on Monarch Waystations to learn how. The Monarch Waystations should include milkweed plants and other nectar producing plants. Plants native to one's area is always a good choice for the local pollinators. Avoid hybrid plants as many hybrid flowers have reduced or no nectar.
On Being Monarch
Often when I read about the damaging and unintended effects of insecticide and herbicide use, I wonder if these organisms have a type of conscious awareness of their dilemma. My human mind reconciles weather related deaths as “natural” occurrences that happen to every species, including the human species. But what must these imperiled species think or sense about the disappearance of their natural habitat and the chemical perils that awaits them from each beat of their wings and every sip of nectar they take.
Do they feel (justifiably) persecuted due to disappearing habitat and food source poisoning? Do they signal each other when food sources are tainted with unfamiliar chemicals. Do they consider this an act of eco or wildlife terrorism, of which they are but a part of the total number of causalities?
Our only hope is for our species or the other to evolve fast enough to solve this problem.
Angie Hanna, June 25, 2015
Photo Credits: Photo series of monarchs in chrysalis and eclosing stages courtesy of Linda Richards.
Video, Monarch Butterfly Colony, at the Sierra Chincua Sanctuary.
“Genetic secrets of the monarch butterfly revealed,” U Chicago News, October 6, 2014.
Catastrophic Winter Storm Mortality of Monarch Butterflies in Mexico during January 2002, Lincoln P. Brower, David R. Kust, Eduardo Rendón Salinas, Eligio Garcia-serrano, katherine R. Kust, Jacob Miller, Concha Fernandez del Rey, and Karen Pape, Monarch Lab, University of Minnesota, Overwintering Biology.
Milkweed, Monarchs and More, A Field Guide to the Invertebrate Community and the Milkweed Patch, Ba Rea, Karen oberhauser and Michael Quinn, updated Second Edition, Ras Relief, LLC, 2011.
Monarch Spring Migration, 2015.
“Neonicotinoids in Your Garden,” Xerces Society.
Press Release, U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, February 9, 2015.
Worldwide Integrated Assessment, The Task Force on Systemic Pesticides.