Monarch Watch Update - June 19, 2003



1) Welcome!

2) BugBear Virus Attack

3) Status of the Population

4) Rate of Progression of the Spring Migration

5) When does the migration northward end?

6) Early Summer Conditions

7) Orientation and Navigation: Terminology Issues

8) Dr. Fred Urquhart – In Memoriam

9) 2003 Membership/Tagging Kits

10) 2002 Tag Recoveries - Coming Soon!

11) How to Unsubscribe from this Update


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2) BugBear Virus Attack

You may have recently received a BugBear infected email apparently sent by me and/or Monarch Watch with "Monarch Watch Update - March 19, 2003" as the subject. Unfortunately, return addresses in BugBear infected email are false so the virus didn't actually come from me but I get the pleasure of receiving all of the flak (800 messages and counting ;-)

It is likely that KU's list processor (the computer that sends out our updates) was a victim of BugBear's actions and as a result sent the bogus email with the virus attached to all recipients of this Update.

If your AntiVirus software did not intercept this little bug there is a chance that your PC running Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows NT, Windows 2000, Windows XP, or Windows Me may be infected (Windows 3.x, Macintosh, OS/2, UNIX, and Linux systems are not affected). Please read the information below and take appropriate action.

We apologize for any inconvenience this has caused you and are researching measures we can take to prevent similar attacks in the future. I can't imagine living without email, but is becoming increasingly difficult to live with it!

BugBear Virus Information

Antivirus manufacturers have declared a worldwide high alert for the BugBear.b Virus/Worm which is currently spreading through email, across corporate and small business networks, and through shared network folders. At the time of this writing Bugbear is not known to damage computers, however it does install a "backdoor", a "key-logger", and it disables most virus protection programs.

More information is available here:


3) Status of the Population – by Chip Taylor

One can’t judge the status of the monarch population on the basis of what one sees in a single location. If I were to do that, I’d have to say that this is not going to be a good year for monarchs. Here in eastern Kansas monarchs have been scarce and I didn’t see my 5th monarch of the year until the 6th of June. Eggs and larvae have been non-existent locally and there hasn’t been a strong flow of other migratory butterflies that we often see in good monarch years. Yet, aside from this location, I’m optimistic about the reports from the rest of the country. The drought has diminished (see below) and the milkweeds appear to be in good condition in most locations. Moderately good numbers of monarchs have been reported from nearly all of the core areas of the summer breeding range over the last three weeks. It is definitely looking good for large fall migration – assuming normal rainfall and temperatures from now to the end of August.


4) Rate of Progression of the Spring Migration – by Chip Taylor

As I pointed out last month, the pace at which monarchs move northward in May and June is the fastest of the entire annual cycle. This dash to the north has been repeated in the last 4 weeks and the number of monarchs sighted in the upper Midwest as reported to Dplex-L and Journey North

has been quite good. During the last month the front of the distribution has advanced from about 42 degrees N to close to 50 degrees N, a distance of 600 miles – about 20 miles per day. However, the butterflies flying this course originated well south of 42 degrees N and our projection of distances covered by individual butterflies of 50-55 miles per day still seems reasonable.


5) When does the migration northward end - or does it? – by Chip Taylor

As mentioned above, I saw my 5th monarch of the year on the 6th of June. It was headed NNE in clear directional flight – strong powered flight about 2 meters above ground. On Sunday the 8th I saw about 6 monarchs and I’ve seen a few more in the last three days, none of which showed any sign of directional flight. Two years ago, when we had a good flight of monarchs through Lawrence in late May and early June, we closely watched all monarchs for directional flight. The last directional flight detected that year was on the 5th of June. After this date the monarchs appeared to remain local and the males started to patrol the milkweed patches looking for females, a behavior not seen earlier in the season.

Our observations are not consistent with those of others; one of the prevailing theories of the monarch migration that suggests that the monarchs migrate continuously. Clearly, we need more information on the behavior of early summer monarchs to determine if they continue to migrate or if the migration stops at different latitudes at different dates. My guess is that the migration stops at each degree of latitude northward at a particular date, that these dates can be predicted, and that all directional migration stops before the 21st of June at all latitudes. Ok, I’ve done it – my neck and reputation is out there. Am I right or wrong? Please send me your observations or post them to Dplex-L.


6) Early Summer Conditions – by Chip Taylor

The drought continues to abate. Most of the primary breeding area for summer monarchs is no longer considered to be under drought stress. The map on the Drought Monitor web site for 3 June ( shows that the drought still lingers for much of northern Kansas, most of Nebraska, most of South Dakota and the western half of the North Dakota. Drought conditions persist in NE Minnesota, a mostly forested region that is generally devoid of milkweeds and monarchs. Northern Maine continues to experience abnormally dry to moderate drought conditions. The water levels in the ponds and lakes are still low in most of eastern Kansas and the agriculturists are warning us that the subsurface soil moisture levels are low, meaning that a mid-summer hiatus in the rainfall could be more severe than one might expect from low rainfall amounts alone.

The milkweed is lush for now and the few monarchs in the area are laying eggs on a variety of milkweed species. On the 10th I found two monarch eggs on Asclepias purpurascens (purple milkweed). This is a logical host for monarchs but the plant is so uncommon that this is the first time I’ve seen eggs on this species. Last month I reported that one of my Asclepias incarnata (swamp milkweed) plants was getting a jump on the season. It started blooming at the end of May and is now in full bloom. This plant is at least 5 weeks ahead of its wild counterparts. Milkweed bloom in this area of eastern Kansas is extensive now and will increase in the next 10 days. A. viridis, A. amplexicaulis, and A. meadii are now past peak bloom but A. tuberosa is lighting up the prairies with its flaming orange and A. sullivantii and A. syriaca are about to burst forth with in glorious color and perfume. A. viridiflora has started to bloom in the best sites but we can count on this species to have flowers for the next 6 weeks.

Overall, early summer conditions appear to be favorable for monarchs over most of the breeding range - Nebraska and the western Dakotas excepted.


7) Orientation and Navigation: Terminology Issues – by Chip Taylor

The appearance of a paper entitled "Illuminating the Circadian Clock in Monarch Butterfly Migration" by Oren Froy, Anthony L. Gotter, Amy L. Casselman and Steven M. Reppert in Science last month spawned a number of calls from reporters asking me to comment. The study is admirable and I will comment on it in the next Season Summary; however, at one point the authors use the term navigation in a manner that raised issues with me as to when it is appropriate to use the term navigation and when to use orientation. Unfortunately, these terms are not well defined or limited in the behavioral literature and they are often used interchangeably. This leads to some confusion since the use of a term incorrectly may obscure an underlying process and it does in this case. If we define orientation as the response of an organism to a proximate stimulus, such as moving toward a light or heat source, moving directionally toward an odor source, etc., and navigation as a bearing (directional movement) assumed by an organism toward an unseen goal in the absence of a proximate stimulus, we can see there is a clear difference in these terms, and by implication, when they should be used. It is clear from the three papers published on the topic that monarchs use a time compensated sun compass. These papers show that monarchs have a time sense, a daily rhythm, and that they use the sun as a reference, a proximate stimulus (an orientation cue) by which they measure their bearing at any time of day. They do not use the sun to navigate to Mexico. The sun does not set the bearing, it is set by something else. Consider the following: If we take a specific latitude, let’s say 45N and go from the Midwest (bearing of 180) to the east we will find that the monarchs have different bearings as we go along this gradient with those in the east heading progressively in more southwesterly directions (bearing close to 235 just inland from the coast). In other words, they are rotated to the right as you face south. This indicates that monarchs acquire information that allows them to respond to longitude along the same latitude. The passage of the sun is symmetrical along this latitude and longitudinal span, so it cannot set the bearing or navigational component of the monarch’s flight. Although it is clear that the sun compass is a component of the navigational system used by monarchs to migrate, it is a proximate reference or cue. Sun compass orientation, by itself, is not sufficient to explain how monarchs navigate to reach the overwintering sites in Mexico. Although the papers on sun compass orientation are valuable contributions toward our understanding of the monarch migration, how monarchs set their bearing remains a mystery and the one that needs to be solved before we fully understand how they navigate during the migration.


8) Dr. Fred Urquhart – In Memoriam

Professor Emeritus Frederick Urquhart of zoology, an internationally renowned expert in the migration patterns of the monarch butterfly, died November 3, 2002, at the age of 90. A complete obituary notice that recently appeared in the University of Toronto Bulletin is available here:

Addendum – by Chip Taylor

The Urquharts were honored for their work on monarchs and the Insect Migration Studies program they managed on several occasions. In 1998 they were presented with the Order of Canada. This is the highest award given to Canadian citizens in recognition of life long contributions to the country. For more information see:

They were also recipients of the W.W.H. Gunn Award – the highest award presented by the Federation of Ontario Naturalists. Dr Urquhart had been a founder of this organization in the 1940s. In addition, they were appointed as Fellows of the Royal Entomological Society of England. The Urquhart Butterfly Garden

is a three acre park designed to attract butterflies in recognition of the contributions of Fred and Nora Urquhart in Dundas, Ontario to our knowledge of butterflies.

The two books authored by Fred Urquhart that are familiar to most of us are:

Urquhart, Fred. 1960. The Monarch Butterfly. University of Toronto Press. Toronto, Canada.

Urquhart, Fred A. 1987. The Monarch Butterfly: International Traveler. University of Toronto Press. Toronto, Canada.

For additional background on Fred Urquhart and the discovery of the monarch overwintering sites in Mexico see:

Flight of the Monarchs. Vanity Fair, November 1999.

1998 Monarch Watch Season Summary, pages 24-25


9) 2003 Membership/Tagging Kits

Now's the time to place an order for your annual Monarch Watch Membership and extra tags! Remember, there are only a fixed number of tags available each year and recently we have been running out of tags later in the season – to make sure you receive all of the tags that you’ll need for the fall place your order early. 2003 Memberships will include 25 tags, the premigration newsletter, the 2003 Season Summary (mailed summer 2004) and one or two additional mailings. Orders may be placed online via Gulliver’s Gift Shop at

and offline orders may be called, faxed, or mailed to:
3515 Silverside Road, Suite 203
Wilmington, DE 19810
toll-free phone - (800) 780-9986
toll-free fax - (877) 687-4878

For your convenience, an abbreviated order form is available at


10) 2002 Tag Recoveries - Coming Soon!

Sarah continues to compile the 2002 season recovery data and hopes to have the complete records ready in the next few weeks. We will post the recovery data online as soon as we can. Thank you for your patience!

Domestic recovery records for the 2002 tagging season are currently online at


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