Monarch Watch Update - August 25, 2004



1) New Online Community Forums

2) Monarch Watch Open House

3) News from Mexico

4) Status of the Population

5) Western Monarch Population

6) 2003 Recovery Data

7) Tagging and Rearing Kits

8) Festival of Butterflies

9) Upcoming Monarch Events

10) Monarchs in New Zealand

11) Eating Monarchs

12) About Our Update List


Unless otherwise noted, all content was authored by Chip Taylor, edited by Jim Lovett and Sarah Schmidt, and published by Jim Lovett.


1) New Online Community Forums

Last month we announced our new online forums/discussion boards that allow you to communicate with others regarding your specific interests in monarchs. The forums are off to a good start and thus far we have 87 registered users from all walks of life and from several countries. If you are interested in following the fall migration, asking questions about monarchs, finding out about monarch events, collaborating with teachers, posting monarch sightings, sharing your own monarch experiences, and/or learning of the latest at Monarch Watch, you can join in by registering or browsing the forums at

We encourage all of you to stop by to register today (it only takes a minute) and then check back frequently to join in and/or start discussions of interest to you. Help us create an active online community for Monarch Watchers all over the world! If you have any questions about this please feel free to drop us a line anytime – or post your questions in the appropriate forum online ;-)


2) Monarch Watch Open House

Saturday, 11 September 2004 9am-3pm - mark your calendars!

Once again, we will be having an Open House at Monarch Watch at Foley Hall on West Campus of the University of Kansas. We had over 1,000 visitors to our first two Open House events (Fall 2003 & Spring 2004) and we expect a good turnout for our 11 September 2004 event as well. This event is designed to please children and adults alike.

Unfortunately, this public event will likely be the last one for some time since we are being relocated to a space that is not public outreach “friendly". Please come and join us to celebrate monarchs and their magnificent fall migration.

Since our last Open House we have been busy adding a wonderful butterfly garden next to our "Biohouse" with the help of the Douglas County Master Gardeners. The gardeners are currently planting a number of butterfly host and nectar plants, many donated by Powell Gardens, in the display area. In addition, there are examples of butterfly feeders and watering sites that could be used to improve your ability to attract butterflies to your garden.

As usual, we will provide refreshments, lots of hands-on show & tell, iChat videoconferencing demonstrations, monarch tagging demonstrations, and of course monarch butterflies and caterpillars!

We'd love to see you there, but realize that all of you "out of towners" in Canada, New Zealand, England, Australia, etc. might not be able to make it so we are planning to have some treats that you can check out online during the event. Be sure to visit us at

to see what we're doing!

Again, the Monarch Watch Fall Open House will be at Foley Hall on KU's West Campus, Lawrence, KS on Saturday, 11 September 2004 9am-3pm. For more information and a map visit


3) News from Mexico

Over the past several months, the Updates have contained numerous reports from the Mexican press of illegal logging in the Monarch Reserve. Most of the logging in these accounts occurred at the end of the tourist season (end of March) continuing into July in some areas. The extent of the damage to the core protected areas, particularly at Chincua has not been assessed. An evaluation of the damage to the forests is badly needed.

As an example of the kind of illegal logging occurring in the protected buffer zones, Lincoln Brower has provided two photos (35mm slides, Nikon) taken from a small plane with the cooperation of Lighthawk, a cooperating group of pilots, on the 21st of January 2004. Both photos show areas near El Rosario, the most commonly visited monarch overwintering site.

[ See the Photos at: ]

There has been relatively little news from Mexico this past month. The middle of our summer is the wet season in central Mexico and the difficulties of moving logs out of the forests and the slick and muddy roads presumably reduces illegal logging during this season. We did receive one report from a Mexican newspaper that outlines a promising way of monitoring the forests with the potential to reduce illegal logging. Once again, Carol Cullar, Executive Director Rio Bravo Nature Center Foundation, Inc., Eagle Pass TX has provided us with a fine translation.

Thursday, 30 July 2004

Already there are eyes in the Forest

Nancy Hurtado/Felipe Galván,

La Voz de Michoacan (The Voice of Michoacan)

In this monitoring center, the signal will be received that will broadcast from the 29 infrared rays cameras [in] the eastern forests, when someone tries to attack them.

Unprecedented in Michoacan, the Federal and State government applied advanced technology to fight
the problem of illegal logging of the forests in the Monarch Butterfly zone in the eastern portion of the state.

With the installation of 29 infrared video cameras, the Federal Attorney's office of Environmental Protection (PROFEPA) will be able to watch from its offices, 24 hours [a day] the behavior in this wooded zone of the state, in addition to the main highway accesses into this area.

This vanguard team will have 100 percent coverage of the more than 32 thousand hectares that comprise the Monarch zone in the part of the state of Michoacan and 22 thousand hectares on the part of the state of Mexico. For this is required an investment of 20 million pesos, contributed by the federal government and the states of Michoacan and Mexico.

Yesterday the secretary of Environment and Natural Resources, Alberto Cardenas Jimenez and the governor of the State Lazarus Cardenas Batel, attended an official ceremony for the start up of this new vigilance system.

The Federal official assured: "We are gaining ground over the illegality from which the Butterfly Monarch is secure in Michoacan and runs no risks."

The monitoring of the Monarch’s wooded zone is in coordination with the C-4 Emergency Service and PROFEPA to watch and record 24 hours a day approved forest development and the presence, even of forest fires.

The representative of SEMARNAT mentioned the diverse programs that the Federal and the State [governments] apply to fight delinquency in the protected zones, which are: the Program of Reforestation that at present offers 5,500 pesos per rehabilitated hectare and 7,500 pesos for the creation of new forests.

Attending the installation of the forest vigilance system, Edward Kedunc of the Agency for the International Development of the United States pointed out that bilateral cooperation and organization are the key to achieving economic development.

In the meantime, the Ambassador of Finland, Yuca Pietikainen, offered advice to Michoacan in the matter of battling illegal logging and emphasized the work that in that nation is carried out to conserve the forest, a resource that comprises 70 percent of its territory and where they have managed to expand the mechanisms of forest conservation with which it has been able to destroy illegal logging.

Advances of PRODEFOR

Among the actions and support programs [available] to producers that the Federal and State governments offer to fight illegal logging of the forest, the Program of Forest Development [PROFEFOR] is found, a system that offers economic resources to coop members for commercial plantation, conservation, and reforestation of its areas.

The general director of the Forest National Commission (CONAFOR), Manuel Reed, indicated that in Michoacan more than 23 million pesos have been invested for the conservation and the sustainable development of forest materials.

After the delivery of resources of PRODEFOR by the order of 500 thousand pesos in support to coop members that presented viable projects for forest conservation of the in the eastern region of the state, the federal official, reported that in Michoacan 175 forest projects had been attended with more than 11 million pesos.

He indicated that Michoacan is the entity in the country that received the most resources for the conservation and rational development of forest resources.

In total, the Federal government destined for this program in all of Mexico more than 180 million pesos with those that intend to attend to more than 2 million hectares of forest.


4) Status of the Population

Reports of the numbers of monarch eggs, larvae and adults from throughout their breeding range have not been encouraging this past month, sustaining the trend that has been evident throughout the breeding season. Nevertheless, there may be more monarchs joining the migration this fall than is suggested by these reports. I was pleased this week to discover good numbers of monarchs using visiting the flowers and mating at a truck garden/asparagus farm east of Lawrence I visit each August. The numbers of monarchs found at this site were lower than last year when I was able to find up to 6 mating pairs clinging to the tops of one pigweed at the end of the day (see the September 2003 Update, item 8 Clustering and Mating and the images at

but they were as abundant as they have often been at this time of year. This surprised me since we have seen so few monarchs in Lawrence this year. In fact, the numbers of larvae have been so low that I abandoned efforts to record the proportion of tachinid fly parasites throughout the season as I did last year (see the November 2003 Update). Yet, the number of monarchs in the Lawrence area at this time, while a bit low compared to good years, is not decidedly low. These monarchs are still laying eggs in good numbers and the local milkweeds are in remarkably good condition for this time of year due to the excessive rainfall in July.

To get another perspective on the size of the fall population, I called Karen Oberhauser at the University of Minnesota. Karen is the director of the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project. Karen kindly put together a summary of the maximum number of eggs per milkweed for the second peak of brood production in the upper Midwest. The graphic shows that the numbers of eggs this year are fewer than in the summers of 2002 and 2003 but higher than observed in 1998, the lowest year for egg numbers in her data set. It’s hard to know what to make of these data since I don’t know how egg numbers correlate with the subsequent number of adults. Further, it’s not clear how to relate them to the size of the wintering population. Assuming the total winter population is consistently measured each year, egg numbers don’t seem to predict the overwintering populations. For example, in 1998, the lowest year for egg numbers, the population measured 5.56 hectares during the winter of 98/99. In contrast, the third highest egg numbers recorded since 1996 occurred in 2000, which was followed by the lowest overwintering population yet to be recorded, a mere 2.83 hectares. Similarly, the relatively low egg numbers of 2002 and 2003 were followed by winter populations that measured just over 6 and 11 hectares respectively. A problem with these comparisons is the assumption that all the monarchs are measured each winter and that area measurements are well correlated with population size. This may not be the case. We now know that the areas measured for overwintering monarchs in December are much larger than those recorded for the same colonies in January. These changes in areas for the colonies suggest a hectare in January contains more butterflies than it does in December. Unfortunately, reliable estimates of the size of the population just aren’t available and it is clear that better methods are needed to measure the size of the fall and overwintering populations. Karen’s approach deals with real numbers and many observers over a wide area. We need real number approaches, rather than estimates based on numerous assumptions, for the entire annual cycle if we hope to understand monarch population dynamics.

The above was a bit of a digression, so let’s get back to the status of the population and the prospects for the migration and the winter population. My expectation is that the fall migration will be moderate to low. Low numbers are expected in the eastern portion of the country. However, the migration along a line from Minnesota to central Texas should be moderate. Late summer reproduction in the south, especially in Texas, could contribute more butterflies than normal to the migration due to well-distributed rainfall. Overall, the wintering population should be in the range of 4-6 hectares. Well, there it is! I’ve stuck my neck out again. I’ve been close on some of these predictions and off on others. We’ll just have to wait to see how the migration and overwintering population develop.

Peak Migration Dates: When will the migration peak in my area? Find out at:


5) Western Monarch Population - by Mia Monroe

Western observers in Calistoga, Placerville, Yosemite, Marin and San Mateo are already observing monarchs on their way towards the coast. Many are stopping to mate, find local milkweeds. Those who have been tracking for a number of years feel the numbers are a bit higher than usual for mid-August.

News round-up from the West

MARK YOUR CALENDARS.... Welcome Back Monarchs Day is October 12 at Natural Bridges State Reserve in Santa Cruz, the Monarch Festival is over Thanksgiving Weekend this year in Pacific Grove and you are all invited to the Ventura Monarch Festival on January 15.

Yosemite National Park will soon install a new wayside exhibit in one of the main meadows, known for its abundance of milkweeds, featuring monarchs.

Look for the spring issue of WINGS, the publication of The Xerces Society, with an article by Robert Michael Pyle and Mia Monroe on "Conservation of Western Monarchs".

Robert Michael Pyle was recently honored as the 2004 John Adams Comstock Award winner at the Pacific Slope Section of The Lepidopterists' Society.


6) 2003 Recovery Data

We continue to process the recovery data for the 2003 season and we have updated the "work in progress" page with domestic recoveries - those tags recovered within the United States and Canada:


7) Tagging and Rearing Kits

In case you missed our reminders in the last two updates, it's time to place your orders for Monarch Watch Tagging Kits and Rearing Kits for this fall season! Please submit your orders as soon as possible to ensure that you receive your kits in a timely manner. The tags for the 2004 season have arrived and we began shipping them out on August 1st, in plenty of time for the fall migration. Each year we run out of tags so be sure not to miss out!

The Monarch Watch Fall 2004 Tagging Kit includes 25 tags and instructions for $25; additional 25-tag sheets are available for $4 each.

We now have insect nets available! They have a 3-foot hardwood handle and a 12" diameter (28" depth) white aerial net bag - perfect for carefully catching monarchs. A complete description including a photo is available in the Monarch Watch Shop at:

As you probably know, Monarch Rearing Kits are available for those of you that want to raise monarchs at home or in the classroom. Each kit contains 14-16 young larvae and rearing instructions. Effective July 1, 2004 the pricing structure for Rearing Kits changed somewhat to more accurately reflect the costs involved - individual Rearing Kits are available for $16 each with a shipping and handling charge of $23 for up to four kits. While the cost of individual kits increased slightly, new shipping methods allow us to send up to four kits in a single box, thereby reducing the cost of multiple kits considerably:

1 Kit: was $34; now $39
2 Kits: were $68; now $55
3 Kits: were $102; now $71
4 Kits: were $136; now $87

Visit the Monarch Watch Shop at

or download a condensed order form at


8) Festival of Butterflies

Over the past two weekends (Friday-Sunday, 9am-6pm) Monarch Watch participated in Powell Gardens’ 8th Annual Festival of Butterflies. More than 23,000 people visited the gardens over the two weekends and we believe the majority also stopped by to see Monarch Watch. We provided lots of hands-on experience with the monarchs, held tagging demonstrations, and answered questions about our educational, conservation, and research efforts.

We were so busy that we just didn’t have the time to take too many photos, but here are a few:

For more information on Powell Gardens and/or the festival visit


9) Upcoming Monarch Events

August and September are busy months for monarch events in the U.S. and Canada! For a complete up-to-date listing please visit the “Monarch Events” forum within our new online community forums:

If you know of other events that are not listed there, please let us know!


10) Monarchs in New Zealand

The Monarch Watch web site is visited by people from many countries. The tracking system we utilize to monitor visitations to the site shows that, after Canadians, New Zealanders are the most frequent visitors to the web site. Most of the New Zealand visits occur during our winter months, which is late summer in the southern hemisphere. The visits are frequently followed by emails seeking advice on alternative food sources for monarchs since the late summer monarch larvae have eaten all or nearly all of the foliage from the milkweeds. I usually encourage these people to try pumpkin but I have yet to confirm that monarchs reach maturity on the fruits of these plants.

I have been trying to find information on the distribution, abundance, and seasonality of monarchs in New Zealand or to find someone who would write an article on this topic. I finally prevailed on one of the email correspondents from New Zealand, Angela McGregor, to provide some background information on monarchs and the following is a summary of her notes. I welcome more information on this topic.

New Zealand, population 4 million, consists primarily of two islands, which lie between 34 and 47 degrees South latitude and about 1000 miles to the southeast of Australia and 1350 miles north of Antarctica. The comparable latitudes in the central US are from Fargo, ND to Ardmore, OK and in the east from roughly Caribou, ME to Wilmington, NC. The total land area is about 105,000 square miles or roughly the size of Colorado. The climate is temperate but, being oceanic, New Zealand does not experience the extreme low or high temperatures that occur each winter and summer in North America. Coastal climates in the North Island are generally mild and the eastern coast is known to have several locations where relatively small numbers of monarchs overwinter clustered in trees as they do in Mexico and Australia.

Although they may have been present earlier, monarchs were first verified to be in New Zealand in 1873. Milkweeds are not native to the main islands so the establishment of a monarch population must have followed the introduction of milkweeds. Milkweeds, particularly the swan plant and the blood flower (tropical milkweed), may have been contaminants of fodder used to maintain livestock on ships that crossed the Pacific and there is some evidence that missionaries intentionally introduced the blood flower as a source of fiber for pillows. Milkweeds did not become “naturalized” in New Zealand, although the blood flower is now becoming more common, and monarchs are largely dependent on milkweeds planted in gardens for reproduction. Here is a case where the distribution and abundance of the species appears to be a function of human activities since the butterfly would be rare or absent if milkweeds were not favored by gardeners. Because the monarch population is a function of milkweed plantings, the populations are not large. Nevertheless, monarchs can be found throughout most of the lowland areas of New Zealand during the warmer months of the year.

Because New Zealand has had many problems with introduced weedy species, the government attempts to regulate those species that can be grown in gardens. The following species are allowed: Asclepias curassavica, A. fruticosa, A. physocarpa, A. incarnata, A. pulchra, A. speciosa, A. tuberosa, A. rubra, A. rotundifolia, A. hallii, and A. cancellata. Notably absent form this list is the highly invasive A. syriaca which supports much of the monarch population in eastern North America.

Although monarchs are said to migrate in New Zealand, the pattern of the migration, if there is one, is not well known. Presumably, the butterflies move from the south to the north in the fall and disperse inland and southward in the spring. What is known is that monarchs begin to accumulate at sites (e.g. near Church Hill, Nelson, Kaeo (Tauranga Bay), Manaia, and Hastings) along the coast in April and May and they disperse from these locations in September. The breeding season is from September to April in the north Island but is probably shorter in the South Island. Each year the population builds up slowly but toward the end of the season (March) monarch larvae strip most of the milkweeds (usually swan plants, A fruiticosa) of foliage in the gardens. It is at this time that those who care about monarchs desperately search for alternative host plants and they have reportedly had some success with pumpkins, watermelons and even cucumbers. Monarchs may even utilize some varieties of Hoyas (wax plants). Since Hoyas are in the milkweed family it seems possible that monarchs would lay eggs on these plants yet the foliage is so tough and waxy that it’s hard to imagine a larva completing its development on these plants.

Although I have been unable to learn anything about parasites and diseases of monarchs in New Zealand, some years ago I examined a small sample (<10) of dead specimens and found all to be infested with the protozoan parasite Ophyrocystis elektroscirrha.

Much more needs to be learned about the biology of monarchs in New Zealand and I’m hopeful that I can glean more from our email friends in the South Pacific with each season.

The following book contains information on the basic biology of monarchs and how they came to New Zealand.

Gibbs, George. 1994. The Monarch Butterfly. Reed Published, 70pp. ISBN: 0-7900-0306-6.

My thanks to Angela McGregor for providing much of the information for this article.


11) Eating Monarchs

This article touches on two subjects; monarchs as food and an early encounter by outsiders with the monarch migration in Mexico. In the United States, Canada and much of Europe, the consumption of insects is usually accidental rather than intentional. However, this is not the case in much of the rest of the world where insects are sought after as food items because of their high protein and fat content. Indeed, in Mexico, especially in Oaxaca, one can find a variety of insects, such as crickets and grasshoppers in the market and, occasionally, you can even buy ant larvae tacos at the airport in Mexico City. The monarch colonies became “officially” known to outsiders in January 1975 when Ken Brugger and his wife Cathy were led to one of the colonies at Cerro Pelon. This narrative describes an earlier encounter with masses of monarchs near the overwintering colonies. The following text is a modification of two messages posted to Dplex-L in October 2001 by Michael Lastufka a long time Monarch Watch participant in Dallas. - Chip Taylor

Before There Were Sanctuaries - by Michael Lastufka

Language workers were among the first outsiders to know of mass congregations of Monarchs near what are now the sanctuaries in Mexico. I learned of this through Don Stewart, a linguist who studied and produced literature from 1953-1994 in the Mazahua Indian language in central Mexico. Don and his wife, Shirley, arrived in Santa Maria Citendej'e, a small community in the state of Mexico, the last day of October, 1953. There the people told them that each year during the November harvest, which they referred to as "sjepje", a certain variety of butterfly, which was referred to by the same name, "sjepje", migrates through this area. They watched for the "sjepje" each day.

In the evening, two days before Thanksgiving, the owner of the house in which Don and Shirley were living, came and invited Don to join him the next morning because the "sjepje" had arrived. At 4 a.m., Don rose and joined the men of the landlord's household. There was a full moon that resulted in wonderful visibility.
One of their group of four would climb into the trees and shake the branches. The butterflies would fall to the ground and, because of the reflection of the bright moonlight, appeared as silver triangles. The men picked them up, put them in their hats and then into a sack. They collected around 10 pounds of butterflies. Other families of the village were also out getting butterflies.

At home, it became a family chore to pull off the pretty wings and to drop the wriggling sjepje in a huge bowl. This chore took until sundown. They were toasted and rolled in tortillas for a meal.

On Thanksgiving day, the landlady brought some of the diligently prepared delicacy for the Stewart family. Don recounts, "I had several (c. 1/2 cups) of them on tortillas. The girls (Shirley and Hazel Spotts, another linguist) had 3 or 4, and their imagination did not allow them to enjoy them." In spite of the fact that monarchs are known to contain vertebrate heart toxins known as cardenolides, or cardiac glycosides, no ill effects followed the meal. It is possible that the toxins were neutralized by the preparation and the fibrous foods (corn tortillas) consumed with these meals may also "absorb" small amounts of toxins and expedite their exit from the digestive tract.

The Stewarts were privileged to learn of the mass accumulations of monarchs, sjepje, and to live in Santa Maria Citendej'e for another 3 years. Never was anything further mentioned of "butterfly feasts" in this community or any other place the Stewarts lived in this period. Don thinks they may have been out of town when the monarchs arrived in those years.

It was in 1988, 35 years following the memorable event in 1953, that the Stewarts made a trip to the El Rosario sanctuary, near Angangueo to see the overwintering monarchs.

Photographic note: Dr. Brower recalls that a Japanese film team he and William Calvert were advising in the early 1980s, filmed the preparation of a monarch feast in Atlacomulco a town about 2 miles ENE of Santa Maria Citendej'e.

Geographical note: Santa Maria Citendej'e is located on a tree-covered NNE facing mountain slope about 45 miles north and 20 miles west of Toluca, elevated a bit more than 8,000 feet. Angangueo is about 30 miles to the WSW and there are other sanctuaries about the same distance south and to the east. The "front" side of the mountain is a mostly barren slope hosting another small village. Monarchs do not "overnight" there. Citendej'e is an Aztec/Nahuatl name. The Mazahua name given to Santa Maria Citendej'e is Xunt'eje which means "back of the mountain".

Mathematical note: At 0.5 grams per butterfly, ten pounds of monarchs comes to about 9,000 per household feast. I estimate that's a heaping pile about 10 inches high on a 17-inch diameter serving plate – no wings of course. Bon appetite!


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