Monarch Watch Update - April 25, 2005



1) Status of the Population

2) Monarch Waystation Program Launched

3) Monarch Watch Spring Open House and Plant Fundraiser

4) The McGuire Center and Butterfly Rainforest

5) Development Programs and Alternare

6) Monarch vs. Lizard?!

7) 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) Status of the Population

As you may recall from last month, the start of the monarch season did not look promising. In fact, monarchs were off to a poorer start than in 2004 with only 18 observations being reported from 1-24 March. The low number of sightings prompted me, with the help of Janis Lentz, to examine the monarch sightings reported to Journey North for March and April for the last six years. The data presented last month has now been expanded to include the observations reported to Journey North for the last two observation periods. We have taken the additional step of showing the number of observations reported outside of Texas. This step has been taken for two reasons; 1) the number of sightings outside of Texas gives a crude measure of the expansion of the population and the numbers seen, and 2) it avoids any problems of over or under reporting of the number of monarchs seen in Texas.

After the “Status of the Population” report last month, Mike Quinn, of Texas Parks and Wildlife and Texas Monarch Watch, pointed out that one reason for the low number of initial reports in Texas was due to the fact that he hadn’t alerted his extensive network of field observers to report monarchs until quite late in March. Therefore, it was Mike’s contention that the low numbers of sightings reported to Journey North for early March did not reflect the true situation. In fact, subsequent to his call for reports from Texas observers, there was a flurry of reports of monarch sightings, often of many individuals seen at once or in a short period, rather than singletons. A number of these reports indicated that monarchs had been seen prior to March 24th, requiring an adjustment in the total number of sightings from 18 to 31 for March 1-24. This number is still low relative to 2003-2000 but it’s better than 18 and casts a better light on the prospects for this season.

The number of sightings for the last two observation periods, March 25-31 and April 1-16 are incorporated into Table 1. The numbers in the table represent the total observations for the interval as well as the number of sites at which monarchs were seen outside of Texas. Although the proportion of the monarch observations from Texas for the period March 1 - April 16 for the last two years is 67% (2005) and 75% (2004), it is not clear whether these high numbers are due to the extensive reporting network in Texas or to late arrival of the butterflies from Mexico. Given this situation it may be better to look at the total number of sightings outside of Texas as of the April 16th. These numbers, 46 (2005) and 24 (2004) appear to show that the 2005 population has now caught up and passed that of 2004 as of this date. Nevertheless, the numbers for 2005 so far are the second lowest recorded during the last 6 years. Yet, they are not too different from those of 2001 - a breeding season in which the population rebounded from a low of 2.83 hectares in the winter of 2000-2001 to 9.35 hectares in the following winter.

The bottom line is that, while the initial population in 2005 is a bit on the low side (relative to those of 2000-2003) it is not all doom and gloom and there are some positive signs in the numbers.

Table 1. Number of monarchs sightings recorded by Journey North for 2000-2005.


March 1-24

March 25-31

April 1-16


Non-Tx (%)


31 (1)

42 (8)

67 (37)

140 (46)



34 (8)

35 (1)

27 (15)

96 (24)



73 (4)

39 (17)

48 (42)

160 (63)



133 (8)

50 (21)

36 (32)

219 (61)



60 (4)

18 (1)

70 (46)

148 (51)



61 (24)

27 (21)

62 (62)

150 (107)


*Numbers in parentheses are observations outside of Texas, exclusive of states west of the Rockies and Florida.
**Years with relatively low numbers of butterflies returning from Mexico.

A comparison of the maps generated by Journey North for the monarch sightings reported over the last six years is instructive (see the links below). The patterns of the reports from 2003 back through 2000 are fairly similar. Yet, two years stand out. Note that in 2000, the arriving monarchs spread out rapidly such that by the 16 of April 71% of the observations were from outside Texas. Although it may not be related to this early arrival, the population that developed over the summer of 2000 produced an overwintering population that only measured 2.83 hectares, the lowest population seen prior to this past winter. All that we can say from this observation is that an early arrival doesn’t guarantee a large fall population. The spring of 2004 also stands out as an anomaly with lower than normal numbers of sightings and a slow rate of spread out of Texas into neighboring states. In the March 2004 Update, I estimated that at least 70% of the monarchs had died the previous winter as a result of two severe storms. After looking at the maps and the numbers in Table 1, I’m beginning to wonder whether the 70% was an underestimate, especially since higher numbers of returning monarchs were reported in the other springs with low numbers of returning monarchs.


2) Monarch Waystation Program Launched

Monarchs need our help! Get involved in monarch conservation by creating a Monarch Waystation.

We officially launched our “Monarch Waystation” program last week and are starting to receive lots of positive feedback! We also just announced the availability of a limited number of “Monarch Waystation Seed Kits” which include seeds of 12 varieties of nectar and monarch host plants as well as a detailed "Creating a Monarch Waystation" guide. Kits (item #125522) may be ordered via the Monarch Watch Shop online at (direct product link) or by calling (800) 780-9986.

If you missed the details of the program in the last Update, you can read a KU News Release (April 21, 2005) at

or visit

for complete information that will be updated often in the coming weeks.

Monarch Waystations: Create, Conserve, & Protect Monarch Habitats

A waystation is an intermediate station between principal stations on a line of travel. If we imagine the principal stations for monarchs to be the overwintering sites in Mexico and the points of reproduction in the breeding season, then it becomes easy for us to visualize the value of resource-rich waystations along the monarch’s route through its annual fall and spring migrations. Without resources - in the form of nectar from flowers - fall migratory butterflies would be unable to make the journey to Mexico. Similarly, without milkweeds along the entire route north in the spring and summer months, monarchs would not be able to produce the successive generations that culminate in the migration each fall.

Resources Needed by Monarchs are Declining
Milkweeds and nectar sources are declining due to development and the widespread use of herbicides in croplands, pastures and roadsides. Because 90% of all milkweed/monarch habitats occur within the agricultural landscape, farm practices have the potential to strongly influence monarch populations. Why we are concerned:

• Farm and ranch land is disappearing at rate of nearly 3,000 acres per day. In a 5-year period starting in 1992, 6 million acres of farmland (an area the size of the state of Maryland) were converted to subdivisions, factories, and other developments (

• Widespread adoption of herbicide-resistant corn and soybeans in the last 5 years has resulted in the loss of at least 80 million acres of monarch habitat.

• Use of herbicides along roadsides continues to reduce milkweeds and nectar plants.

We are all familiar with development in and around our cities - farm and ranch land is being converted to houses, factories, shopping centers and parking lots. It is the scale of these changes that is alarming - 3,000 acres a day adds up quickly! The rate of change was greater in the 1990s than in the 1980s and it is probably even greater today. Urban sprawl, especially in the eastern half of the country, is eliminating habitats for monarchs and displacing wildlife.

Genetically Modified (GM) Crops
The planting of crops genetically modified to resist the herbicide glyphosphate (most commonly known by the brand name Roundup®) allows growers to spray fields of young soybeans or corn with this herbicide instead of tilling to control weeds. Milkweeds survive tilling but not the repeated use of glyphosphate. In fact, before the adoption of these GM crops, surveys in several states revealed that croplands with modest numbers of milkweeds produced more monarchs per unit area than other monarch habitats. The loss of milkweeds in these row crops is significant, considering that these croplands represent more than 30% of the total summer breeding area for monarchs.

Roadside Management
The use of herbicides and frequent mowing along roadsides has converted much of this habitat to grasslands – a habitat generally lacking in food and shelter for wildlife. These habitats constitute 2-4% of the land area throughout the monarch’s summer breeding range. Although some states have started to increase the diversity of plantings along roadsides, including milkweeds, these programs are small.

Unfortunately, the remaining milkweed habitats - pastures, hayfields, edges of forests, grasslands, native prairies, and urban areas - are not sufficient to sustain the large monarch populations seen in the 1990s. Monarchs need our help.

What We Can Do
To offset the loss of milkweeds and nectar sources due to development, use of herbicides, and roadside management practices, we need to create, conserve, and protect milkweed/monarch habitats. Monarchs need resource patches - lots of them - and our goal over the next three years is the creation of at least 10,000 of these patches, which we are calling “Monarch Waystations”. We need you to help us and help monarchs by creating Monarch Waystations in home gardens, schools, parks, zoos, nature centers, field margins, along roadsides, and on other unused plots of land. This effort won’t replace the amount of milkweed that has been lost or even keep pace with the habitat losses each year; however, without a major effort to restore milkweeds to as many locations as possible, the monarch population is certain to decline to extremely low levels.

In addition to creating monarch habitats in those areas each of us controls, we need to lobby on behalf of monarchs - to persuade our schools, nature centers, municipalities, and departments of transportation (DOTs) in each state to also create these habitats. Creation of restored habitats that support monarchs and other wildlife will save money at all levels of government charged with maintaining roadsides and public lands. The increasing cost of energy is putting a strain on all budgets. We need to encourage our officials to create habitats and save money by eliminating unnecessary mowing and use of herbicides.

The Value of Monarch Waystations
By creating and maintaining a Monarch Waystation you are contributing to monarch conservation and are helping to assure the continuation of the monarch migration in North America. Your efforts will also provide habitats for other species, including many pollinators - a rapidly declining and underappreciated, yet important, group of species. By educating others about monarchs and the need to provide habitats for wildlife you will help raise the public awareness about important conservation issues.

Certify Your Monarch Waystation
To show that you are contributing to monarch conservation, you may choose to have your new or existing monarch habitat certified as an official Monarch Waystation. Upon certification your site will be included in the International Monarch Waystation Registry, an online database of Monarch Waystations, and you will be awarded a certificate bearing your site’s Monarch Waystation ID number. Furthermore, you become eligible to display a weatherproof sign that identifies your monarch habitat as an official Monarch Waystation. This display helps convey the conservation message to those who visit your Monarch Waystation and may encourage them to create their own monarch habitat. Additional information about the Monarch Waystation program is available on our website at:


3) Monarch Watch Spring Open House and Plant Fundraiser

You are cordially invited to join us on Saturday, May 14th 8am-3pm for an Open House and Plant Fundraiser at our facilities on West Campus at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. We are located in Foley Hall (2021 Constant Avenue) near the greenhouse. Nearly 2,000 butterfly plants (both annuals and perennials) including seedlings of five milkweed species, will be available (modest contributions are suggested). We will provide refreshments, lots of show & tell, videos and games for children, iChat videoconferencing demonstrations, and, of course, monarch butterflies!

We hope to see you there, but if you can't make it to Lawrence we'll have "live" photos and video for you to check out online during the day - for more information and a map visit


4) The McGuire Center and Butterfly Rainforest

As I’ve mentioned before, my association with monarchs and Monarch Watch has led to some interesting experiences and last month I had the privilege of visiting the McGuire Center and Butterfly Rainforest at the University of Florida. The McGuire Center, part of the Florida Museum of Natural History, is a new facility dedicated to the scientific study of Lepidoptera and Biodiversity. Most of the facility consists of collections of properly mounted and labeled specimens of butterflies and moths. The collections are extensive and the projection is that this facility will soon house collections that are second only to those of the fabled British Museum of Natural History. In addition to the collections, the facilities contain laboratories for the study of the genetics of Lepidoptera, image processing, propagation of endangered species, etc.

Public education is a large part of the mission of the McGuire Center and to this end there are numerous displays, satellite images, large-scale pictures, models of butterflies and moths, and video screens showing loops of behavior and habitats of Lepidoptera. To illustrate the monarch migration, model monarchs “migrate” as a stream of butterflies that moves up the walls and across the ceilings from room to room through the public display area. It is quite impressive and gives a sense of the long distance the monarchs need to travel on their journey to the overwintering locations in Mexico. Some 6,000 life-sized monarch models were use to illustrate the migration.

The Butterfly Rainforest, which is adjacent to the museum, is a large screened vivarium for butterflies. In my travels I’ve seen about 10 such facilities and this one is certainly among the best. The landscaping within the Rainforest is extraordinary. There are six waterfalls and the vegetation is lush and dense, yet laid out to give good views of the butterflies. The diversity of plants is also impressive. During the season, butterflies are brought in as pupae from 7 tropical countries and over 100 species of butterflies have been introduced into the vivarium. Because the facility is enclosed by screen rather than plastic or glass, the butterflies stay within or close to the vegetation rather than clinging to netting suspended below the ceiling or clinging to the glass above the heads of the patrons.

The McGuire Center and Butterfly Rainforest is really worth a visit and I highly recommend that if you should find yourself anywhere near Gainesville, Florida, that you take the time to visit this world class facility.

To give you an idea of the public displays and the Butterfly Rainforest, I’ve annotated some of the pictures I took on my short visit:

Visitor information for the McGuire Center is available at:


5) Development Programs and Alternare

For over 30 years I knocked around the tropics working on the so-called “killer bees”, an experience that exposed me to a number of development programs. Frankly, I have mixed feelings about development programs. As an educator, I like the idea. If we are going to make the world a better place, education is the key. What I don’t like is the implementation of many of these programs. Most development programs fail - that’s a fact. Failure and success are relative terms and are defined by our expectations. However, if our a priori expectations for development programs are that they should improve the local economies or positively improve the quality of life of the target population – both during and BEYOND the life of the program, there are few success stories. Some programs are funded with the specific intent of introducing a new technology into a less developed economy or culture. These programs are among the first to fail since many of these technologies or ideas are inappropriate for the setting into which they are introduced, or, in some cases, have unintended and undesirable consequences. Some of the errors in judgment are attributable to the funding agencies that are often more interested in introducing new technologies or building infrastructure than they are in providing the means of improving quality of life one family at a time.

On the other hand, the goals of a number of programs are to set up cooperatives and/or to instruct families in how to adopt practices that improve their income or reduce their expenditures, etc. While these programs are more likely to be successful, they often fail for many of the same reasons education fails; unless the educational message is continuous, relevant, positively reinforced and long term, the lessons learned are soon lost. Most development programs aren’t funded well enough or long enough to have a lasting impact. The most successful programs I’ve seen are lead by single individuals who have strong personalities, exceptional leadership skills, as well as the ability to communicate and impart their vision to the client families. They also have the know-how to establish trust, promote cooperation, and mediate disputes. At the same time, they are able to identify their best students and to develop these students as teachers to assure that the program lasts after the funding ends. Needless to say, there aren’t many people who have the wisdom, energy, and stamina needed to succeed with such programs. The programs that seem to have the longest impact are those that teach the clients to be self-reliant and independent of inputs from outside the community. Programs that attempt to set up an infrastructure, based on outside technologies and inputs, decline rapidly once the equipment breaks and the inputs disappear with the end of funding. The tropics are a graveyard of good intentions and applications of inappropriate technologies.

Though I have a skeptical view of development programs, during my March visit to Mexico to buy monarch tags, I took some time to visit Alternare, a relatively new and well-funded development program in the vicinity of the Monarch Biosphere Reserve. Alternare’s goals are to move toward local sustainability by encouraging agricultural self- sufficiency, conservation and the development of small businesses. The program has adopted the “students teach students” model to develop expertise within the community and to facilitate communication. The instruction focuses on soil and water conservation, creating and using organic fertilizers (compost) on raised vegetable beds, crop rotation, tree planting, and animal husbandry. Families are encouraged to build Lorena stoves to replace the practice of cooking over open fires. The Lorena stoves are more efficient in that they use only 50% as much fuel as open fires. They also have the advantage of reducing a family’s exposure to smoke which can be a significant health hazard. Building houses of adobe rather than wood is seen as a way of reducing the need to harvest trees for this purpose. The development of small businesses, such as the sale of honey from small apiaries, is another theme. A potential outcome of all these endeavors, but particularly of the management of the community outreach and teaching, is to increase self –reliance, independence, cooperation, communication and decision making within the communities.

As you can see from the images below, the facilities i.e., dinning area, dormitory, an internet connected computer lab (with 10 wireless computers!) at Alternare are exceptional. Alternare appears to be off to a promising start. The introduction of Lorena ovens, instruction in the use of raised beds to grow vegetables and medicinal plants, the use of compost, methods of soil and water conservation, production of small animals, etc., could play a significant role in improving the quality of life for the local people. Hopefully, Alternare will be the exception among development programs and will not only succeed in the short run but will have a positive long term impact on the residents within and adjacent to the Monarch Biosphere Reserve.

Web Sites

For an informative interview with Guadalupe del Río Pesado, President of Alternare visit:

For a detailed description of Alternare’s training methods and outreach you can download a PDF file prepared by Monica Missrie at


My images of the Alternare facilities can be viewed at


6) Monarch vs. Lizard?!

Mary Ramsower, Spring, Texas, was in the right place at the right time to obtain an unusual image - an attempt by an Anolis lizard (A. carolinensis) to capture a male monarch that had been feeding on a Lantana bloom. Here is Mary's account from 21 April 2005:

"We've had a male monarch flying around the backyard for the last several hours, nectaring on the milkweed and mock orange flowers. I saw him feeding on the lantana and went to take a picture. I noticed a lizard on the lantana, watching the butterfly, but didn't think it would go after it, since the Monarchs aren't too palatable, at least to birds. Well, I snapped the picture and realized he had taken off just as I took it. Then I wondered why he had taken flight. Loaded this picture onto the computer and you can see why!!!"

Thanks to Mike Quinn for drawing our attention to this image and to Mary Ramsower for giving us permission to include it here.


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