1) Status of the Population
2) Michoacan Reforestation Foundation (MRF)
4) Monarch Conference
5) A Late Bloomer for Your Monarch Waystation
6) A Praying Mantis Ate My Tagged Monarch!
7) Illegal Logging Continues in Mexico
8) Western Monarch Round-up
9) Holiday Shopping
10) 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
The evidence continues to mount; the all-time low monarch population of 2.19 hectares in 2004/2005 will soon be a distant memory. Large numbers of monarchs began to arrive in the vicinity of the overwintering sites during the last days of October in time for the Day of the Dead (1 November). The arriving monarchs typically move from place to place for a few weeks before colonies are completely formed. New monarchs continue to arrive in the area through early December. Once the colonies are well established (mid December) Eduardo Rendon and his team from World Wildlife Fund Mexico will begin to count the trees and measure the areas occupied by monarchs at each site. I’m still predicting that the total area for all colonies combined with be in the range of seven to nine hectares, with the lower figure being more likely.
Numerous reports of late monarchs were reported to our email list, Dplex-L, during late October and November. Mild conditions prevailed through much of the northern half of the monarch’s range and killing frosts were late in many places. These conditions seemed to allow many monarchs, who otherwise might have emerged too late to join the migration, to attempt the long traverse south-southwest to Mexico. The proportion of these stragglers that reach the overwintering sites is probably quite low, but the tagging data suggests that a few of them do make it. Those of you who are curious about such late arrivals could search through our tag recovery database to establish the latest date that a tagged monarch from your area has been recovered in Mexico.
This year we issued 185,750 tags. Typically, only one third of the tags in a given year are actually placed on monarchs. This would suggest that 60,000 monarchs were tagged this fall; however, the rate at which datasheets are filling our mailbox each day leads me to believe that far more were tagged. If you haven’t yet done so, please send us your datasheets so that we can process the information from the 100 or so recoveries within the United States and can prepare for the recoveries we will acquire from Mexico later this winter and in the spring.
If you have long dreamed of visiting the overwintering sites, you might give some thought to making the trip this year because the monarch viewing should be excellent. For those of you who wish to follow the weather conditions during the winter in Angangueo, the former mining town that lies between the two largest monarch overwintering colonies, El Rosario and Sierra Chincua, just click on the link to "Weather at the Overwintering Sites" on our homepage - or visit http://weather.yahoo.com/forecast/MXMN0881.html directly.
2) Michoacan Reforestation Foundation (MRF)
Those of you who follow monarch conservation issues closely may be familiar with the Michoacan Reforestation Foundation. This foundation is dedicated to the reforestation of private lands near the monarch overwintering sites in Mexico. The goal is to lessen the demand for the trees within the protected areas by creating sources of wood near, but outside, the monarch reserves. The foundation raises funds that are then directed to the La Cruz Habitat Protection Project in Mexico to pay for the development of seedlings. These seedlings are given to landowners who are instructed in the planting and care of the young plants. Each plot is subsequently monitored to establish the success of the plantings and to give the landowner further advice regarding the care of the young trees. The trees are harvested (thinned) on a five-year schedule with a planned final harvest at 15 years.
Bob Small of Alameda, California and Jose Luis Alvarez of Patzcuaro, Mexico started the program in 1998. Their collaboration resulted in the planting of 2 million trees through 2005. Unfortunately, the partnership between Jose Luis and Bob ended with Bob’s death on the 17th of November 2004. During the last year, MRF has continued under the leadership of Bob’s companion DJ Agnew and volunteer Danielle Lee. DJ Agnew was able to hold MRF together in spite of her significant health problems and Danielle assisted with administrative tasks.
The annual MRF board meeting took place in Alameda on 12 November. Much of the discussion focused on the organization’s leadership and future steps that should be taken by the organization to assure that its mission is fulfilled. While DJ and Danielle had been instrumental in maintaining MRF, they did not feel they could continue on in the same capacity. Unfortunately, the short-term prospect of finding someone similar to Bob Small, a retiree with a passion for the environment who was willing to work pro bono for MRF, was slim. As a result, the board decided on an interim solution. I accepted an appointment as Executive Director and Diane Pansky was hired to become Associate Director. Ms. Pansky is highly qualified with Master’s degrees in both Political Science and Conservation Biology.
Lincoln Brower & Chip Taylor
Front from Left: Mia Monroe, Don Davis, DJ Agnew, Bob Small Jr.
Back from Left: Gary Small, Chip Taylor, Jose Luis Alvarez, Ed Rashin, Sue Sill, Lincoln Brower, Maraleen Manos Jones
Beginning 1 January, 2006, the program will be based at the University of Kansas. The immediate goal of the new leadership is to broaden the funding base for MRF. Every dollar contributed to MRF is used to create and plant two trees near the monarch reserves in Mexico. Thus, every dollar has an impact and the immediate goal of the new leadership is to obtain sufficient funds to facilitate the planting of a million trees each year in Mexico.
The Michoacan Reforestation Foundation can be reached via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or by writing to: Chip Taylor, MRF, Biological Science, University of Kansas, 1200 Sunnyside Ave, Lawrence, KS, 66045.
Do you ever imagine what it is like to be in some one else’s shoes? I don’t do this often, but news of the arrival of the Papalotzin in Mexico gave me pause to think of what it must have been like to be Vico Gutierrez as he maneuvered the Papalotzin to come in for a landing on the two lane highway near the entrance to Sierra Chincua. Imagine the highway surrounded by well-wishers and officials, including the Governor of the state of Michoacan, and as you descend you can’t help but think that this is the end of a great adventure, perhaps the greatest adventure of your life. You try to concentrate on the landing, ever worried about a small thermal or a cross wind that might cause you to abort the landing or veer off the targeted center line of the highway, but it is hard not to reflect on the years of work it took to put the Papalotzin journey together. Here it is, a vision realized, but about to end. Your journey began in Mexico with the assembly of a support team, followed by traveling through Mexico and the United States to set up contacts and landing sites. You worked your way north to Montreal, Canada where the 4000 mile flight officially began. It’s hard to concentrate on that highway, your mind wants to reflect on all the people you’ve met, the things you’ve seen, the press conferences, the interviews, the monarchs you’ve flown near, the worries about repairs to the aircraft, the weather and so many other things. Still, you can’t think of these things now; they will have to come later. You have to bring the aircraft down one more time just like you’ve been bringing in hang gliders and ultralights for the last thirty years. The highway is getting closer and the center-line is getting bigger, yes, here it comes one more time, gently, so gently. Touch down. Taxi down the highway. Gosh, look at all the people. Cheers. What will I say to the Governor? Smiles. Greetings. Relief, and yet a bit of sadness. It’s over. Yes, tomorrow I can reflect on the trip, the adventure of it all, but now is the time to celebrate after I deal with the press one more time!
The above was written from my imagination by combining my flight with Vico and my knowledge about the terrain at the entrance to Chincua. You can get an idea of what Vico saw and experienced by going to the Papalotzin web site http://www.papalotzin.com/ . To see the images from that day, click on the Logbook and scroll down to D45, the arrival at Chincua (Llegada a Chincua Llano de las Papas). If you scroll through the photo album, you will see lots of images of the Papalotzin, Vico Gutierrez, his crew, Vico’s family, Lázarro Cárdenas Batel (Governor of Michoacan), the crowds, a flock of girls dressed as monarchs, the general scene at the entrance to Sierra Chincua and that line I mentioned in the middle of the narrow and not so flat road. The man with the monarch shirt is John Powers, a Canadian monarch enthusiast who flew down to Mexico just to be present at the arrival of the Papalotzin at the Llano de Las Papas at the entrance to Chincua. He seems to have brought a bottle of wine with him that he presented to the Governor.
My flight with Vico in September while the Papalotzin team visited Lawrence gave me a bit of a perspective on that approaching center line on the highway. Here are some images of our approach to the runway in Lawrence. Once you’ve seen these images, imagine a road only 2/3rds as wide as the wingspan of your aircraft with a faint center-line and narrow shoulders that drop off several feet. A piece of cake for Vico, but I’d prefer a landing at the Lawrence airport!
The end of the Papalotzin trip was featured on the front page of the New York Times on the 8th of November. A picture of the Papalotzin and a caption summarizing the trip appeared in the 21 November issue of Time Magazine. An account of the Papalotzin visit to Monarch Watch can be found in the September Update.
4) Monarch Conference
The number of scientists studying monarchs is small, but they are dedicated to discovering answers to new and old questions associated with monarchs and their conservation. There are also several programs, such as Monarch Watch, Journey North, and the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project, that encourage public involvement in monarch research. Monarchs and monarch conservation continue to be in the spotlight, so monarch scientists meet every four years or so (e.g. 1993,1997, 2001) to share their research findings with each other, the participants in the aforementioned programs and the public. This year’s meeting will be held on the 8th and 9th of December at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, California.
Download: Monarch Conference Flyer in PDF format (152K)
5) A Late Bloomer for Your Monarch Waystation
We are very lucky at Monarch Watch to be assisted by a number of volunteers at our public events and our other activities through the year. Our Monarch Waystation is the result of a volunteer effort by the local Master Gardeners, particularly Margarete Johnson. Margarete devotes a lot of time, energy, and creativity to managing the garden. This past season was the second year for the garden and by fall all of Margarete’s hard work was rewarded by the appearance of large numbers of fall butterflies. Monarch larvae were so abundant that they had to be removed from the plants and raised elsewhere, so that visitors could see that the garden actually contained milkweeds! Margarete designed the plantings so that continuously blooming plants were spread throughout the garden. Here and there she planted species with relatively short blooming periods. As these species, especially several varieties of New England asters, came into bloom, they attracted an abundance of butterflies. Among the last of the late bloomers was a real surprise to me a chrysanthemum but one that doesn’t look like a typical cultivar from this group. Most chrysanthemums attract few insects and fewer butterflies. This species "Sheffields Pink" (Dendranthema weyrichii or Chrysanthemum rubellum, depending on whose taxonomy one follows) attracted an amazing number and variety of insects, especially butterflies. The flowers are a pale salmon pink and are produced in profusion. The flowering period is quite long and the flowers tolerate light frost. In our garden the flowers continued to attract butterflies for at least 10 days after being nipped by frost. The plant is a sun-loving perennial and is considered to be hardy in zones 5-10.
The insect on the flower looks like a honey bee, doesn’t it? Well, it is supposed to; it is a syrphid fly (Flower or Drone fly), Eristalis tenax, a European species that was accidentally introduced to North America long ago. Our honey bees were introduced from Europe as well. In Europe, historically, selection may have favored those variants of the fly that looked most like the common honey bee, Apis mellifera, resulting in a case of mimicry. The mimicry extends beyond looks; they even fly like bees. This mimicry is as effective on humans as it is on predators. Most people react to these flies as if they might get stung by them. The mimicry can cause some embarrassing situations. I recently received a notice of an international conference on honey bees in China that pictured the fly rather than a honey bee. I wonder how many people will notice?
6) A Praying Mantis Ate My Tagged Monarch!
The proportion of the migrating monarchs that die en route to Mexico is unknown. Monarchs tagged with our circular tags are found dead each year within the United States but the number is relatively low. There has been the occasional tagged monarch found in a spider’s web or on the grill of a car or truck, but normally the actual cause of death is not obvious to the person who finds the tagged monarch. Judy Molnar, an Education Associate of the Virginia Living Museum in Newport News, alerted us to the fate of a female monarch. The butterfly “was tagged and released on October 2nd, and on October 4th our Astronomy Director David Maness noticed a monarch hanging oddly upside down on some lantana outside our Education Center [and thankfully out of public view]. Well, as he got closer he saw why it was hanging oddly! Our tourism cameraman (James Dean), who is a real fan of mantids, came out with a digital camera and captured lots of images of the mantis eating the monarch "like an ear of corn," getting a clear shot of the tag as well. He captioned this one "hmm, tastes like viceroy!"
Photo by James T. Dean, Virginia living Museum
There are at least three species of mantids in the United States that prey on monarchs; the European mantid, Mantis religiosa; the Carolina mantid, Stagomantis carolina; and the Chinese mantid, Tenodera aridifolia sinensis. The European and Chinese mantids are widespread introduced species. The latter is one of our largest insects and can exceed 3.5 inches in length. According to James Dean, the photographer, the mantid in the images was probably an immature Chinese mantid.
7) Illegal Logging Continues in Mexico
The following text is a translation of an article by the well known Mexican author and conservationist, Homero Aridjis. We are indebted to Carol Cullar, Executive Director, Rio Bravo Nature Center Foundation, Inc. of Eagle Pass TX, for translating the article. Carol provided the following note concerning the translation: The word "talamontes" in Spanish means "Claw the mountain. It derives from the word for rape and utter destruction/devastation. Where the author intended, I've translated the word "tala" as "destruction" and at other times "illegal logging."
The recurring nightmare of the monarchs by Homero Aridjis,
Reforma; November 6, 2005
As occurs each year-who knows since when-with the Day of the Dead the visit of the departed souls was accompanied by the monarch butterflies, which flew 5,000 kilometers from the south of Canada and the north of the United States to the oyamel forests in the states of Michoacán and México to pass the winter. In March, those that survive the cold, the storms and the thinning of the forest cover will take the reverse path, procreating
themselves until which [time] their grandchildren, impelled by the mysterious necessity to emígrate to the south, directed by routes by which they have never traveled to places in our country unknown to them.
In a communication of February 16, 2005, the Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources (Semarnat) declared that "the migratory phenomenon of the monarch butterfly…is not at risk," that logging in the nuclear zones has been reduced 100 percent and 80-85 percent of the illegal logging in the buffer zones reduced, and that the forests of the region are healthy or in recuperation. Disgracefully, this isn't true.
From the sanctuaries of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Preserve (Sierra Chincua, Sierra El Campanario, Cerro Chivati-Huacal, Cerro Pelón, and Cerro Altamirano), that were protected by the Presidental decree of 1968, Cerro Pelon is the largest with 345,000 hectares of nuclear zone and 6,787hectars of buffer zone. The sanctuary is located between the municipalities of Donato Guerra and Villa de Allende, state of Mexico, and in the municipality of Zituacaro, Michoacan. According to Semarnat's internet site, the holdings of the land are divided into 9 ejidos, 6 indigenous communities, 3 in litigation, and 4 small properties.
Since the publication of the decree, when the forest is discussed, there exist opposing positions in each ejido or community. Meanwhile, some understand the importance to protect the forest resources, others fight to exploit them in an unsustainable and insolently [barefaced, arrogantly] illegal manner. According to the social and biologic survey analysis in the Special Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Preserve, presented by the Environmental Law Institute by the Group of 100 in 1997, this has been the case of nucleus [zone] farmers, Nicolás Romero, Crescencio Morales, and El Capulín, proprietors of Cerro Pelon sanctuary, where over-exploitation of the forest has prevailed, despite [being] in the nuclear zone. In the report presented in March to Semarnat, to the scientific community, and to the public in general by a team of experts headed by Dr. Lincoln Brower, over the course of the past seven years the forest of the northeast face of Cerro Pelon was destroyed by logging and fire, meanwhile, by "tala hormiga" ["ant bite" logging] on the west side, various sites--where traditionally are established monarch colonies--have been rendered unusable by the declivity having been found almost denuded. [paragraph broken by translator]
In November and December of 2004, cut wood and boards were observed in the nuclear zone of Cerro Pelon; visitors people living in the area heard chainsaws daily; they saw trees thrown down in the access road to El Campamento, which goes to the peak of Cerro Pelon, by which are removed logs [trunks.] In the migratory season of 2004-05, the colony established itself in the edges of the logged area.
From the destruction of Cerro Pelon during the past decade only the south face has been saved, perhaps because it towers so high. This year it could happen that the butterflies find no place to perch themselves, because there has sprung up a new destruction in the southeast face of Serro Pelon, above the area known as Plain of the Three Governors. This destructive logging is located inside the ejido of Nicolas Romero and, possibly, contains part of the ejido San Juan Xoconusco. Many pines and oyameles of great diameter have been logged, and at the site of the logging the trunks have been converted into rafters and lumber. The fresh stumps remain, abundant sawdust, and the scraps as testimony to the recent destruction. As was observed, the processed lumber was removed by truck to the north across from the ejido Nicolas Romero. In this region, from March of 2005, one road that went up from San Juan Xoconusco toward the south face of Cerro Pelon has been improved at a considerable cost with the installation of metal drainage pipes and concrete [retaining]walls. If the intention is to remove cut lumber illegally by this road, it will favor the catastrophic destruction of the south face-until now, pristine-of Cerro Pelon.
In Sierra Chincua there has been illegal logging in the nuclear zone in the area known as Arroyo Zapatero where the monarchs establish winter colonies. The actual destruction of the firs and pines are located in Plain of the Bull, federal zone, nevertheless there are indications that it extends to lands of the Calabozo ejido. Just as in Cerro Pelon, the presence of sawdust and numerous fresh stumps attest to this. This year the loggers have deforested the south slope. The boards are taken out by vehicle by a lumber road that passes beneath Arroyo Zapatero to Senguio.
These areas of Cerro Pelon and Sierra Chincua are found in the nuclear zone of the Preserve, where according to the decree proclaims total and infinite interdiction of forest exploitation because they constitute, with El Rosario, the three principal hibernation sites of the monarch.
Amidst all this, the commune members of Graciano Sanchez accuse the El Rosario ejido of monopolizing the tourist entrances and of "delivering the mountain to people of the State of Mexico," threatening with blockages the access to the sanctuaries if they do not receive resources, not withstanding that since 2001, the ejidos and communities with lands in the nuclear zone of the Preserve receive money from the Monarch Butterfly Conservation Fund to conserve the forest and not make use of the lumber. Among these announcements of despair there is one good: the butterflies have returned to Cerro Altamirano in Contepec, Michoacan, village where I was born and grew up.
Combat with the illegal loggers is dangerous. On September 22, various trucks loaded with lumber intercepted by 10 agents of the Angangueo municipal police were liberated by more than 100 armed men, according to what is believed, belong to a group of illegal loggers from Ocampo and Ciudad Hidalgo, Michoacan. The third of November, during a program in the Llano de las Papas, Sierra Chincua, to receive the Papalotzin ultralite, (that filmed the monarch in its trip to Mexico), Lazaro Cardenas Batel, governor of Michoacan, announced the creation of a State Forestry Police, of which 26 mounted elements on all-terrain vehicles will be coordinated with the Procurate of Federal Environmental Protection (Profepa) and the state of Mexico for the conservation of the Preserve. At the event, commune members from Sierra Chincua accused the general assistant director of Justice from Zitacuaro of having freed the following day from detention an illegal logger who carried some thousands of logs, on a pretext for want of an official denunciation.
The forces of Cardenas Batel are very believable and defended the conduct of the previous governor of the state. Likewise, in the brief time that the engineer, Ignacio Loyola, has headed up [had the running of] Profepa, [he] has been demonstrating an increased interest in protection of the Preserve.
Year after year we encounter the same depredation. Year after year the fir forests are further reduced, putting at risk the migratory phenomenon. The fundamental problem is the greed of the illegal loggers, of some commune leaders and members, and of the politicos who have formed nefarious and corrupt alliances to sabotage the Preserve. While the greed and complicity exist, the sanctuaries of the monarch butterfly will be in danger.
The only thing that can reduce this tendancy [is] a permanent, armed vigilance in the Preserve, the application of the law, and the pressure of a citizenry that has decided to defend the presence of the butterfly in the fir forests in Mexico. One thing is unquestionable, the permanence of the trees also guarantees the wellbeing of the inhabitants of the region.
8) Western Monarch Round-up
By Mia Monroe
Monarch observers are watching closely to see just how this 2005-6 season shapes up since normal patterns are already a bit out of kilter at the regional level. Oddly, numbers throughout the state seem "normal". In the northern part of the range (Sonoma and Marin), individuals have been spotted flying in the area, but no overwintering clusters have been observed. However, just across San Francisco Bay, the San Leandro Golf Course reports three times the number usually seen at this time of year, according to Naturalist Adrienne DePonte. Natural Bridges also has monarchs and, continuing south, Pacific Grove may have up to 12,000 (a strong showing for early in the season), as observed by biologist Jessica Griffiths (Ventana Wilderness Society). Pismo Beach reports 30,000 monarchs (wow!) and a dedicated group of trained docents are on hand to share the phenomena with the public and monitor the population. Residents of Santa Barbara, California have seen monarchs coming into the area. A large number were also seen heading down-coast and below Santa Barbara. At the same time, many monarchs have been traveling up-coast to Ellwood. A rough guess would be that the number of migrants are somewhat low this year, but we won’t have an accurate picture of this year’s overwintering population for a few more weeks. Dave Lange sums up the early season influences, "The weather has been the usual mixed pattern of offshore winds bringing them to the coast from the interior of the state, followed by onshore flow that moves them up and down the coast." Lepidopterists in Southern California report higher numbers of monarchs than usual in the Los Angeles/San Diego area as well, so keep watching!
On a side note, that's just what western “monarchophiles” will continue as the annual Thanksgiving Count began on November 19. Citizen scientists will make a thorough count throughout the state during the next month for a more complete picture of the population. Data will be posted on the Xerces Society Web Page: http://www.xerces.org
Looking for a good place to view monarchs in California?
The Pacific Grove Monarch Sanctuary is open! Closed last Thanksgiving weekend after a branch killed a visitor, the Sanctuary has had a number of older trees removed, but it seems like the monarchs still find it a good and protective site. So far over 12,000 monarchs can be spotted clustering and the Butterfly Lady (Ro Vaccaro) has lots of special information and a passion for monarchs to share with you. The sanctuary is open daily and the Pacific Grove Museum is has hours from Tuesday through Saturday. Admission to both is free.
Natural Bridges State Reserve in Santa Cruz is open daily for monarch viewing, as is Pismo Beach State Park. In the San Francisco Bay Area, check out the San Leandro Golf Course, open only on Saturdays for viewing (tours at 11:30, 1:30 and 2:30).
Want to learn more? Contact Dennis Frey (email@example.com) to learn about the "Conservation of Monarch Butterfly - Population Dynamics and Migration" conference this December 8-9 in San Luis Obispo, Calif.
9) Holiday Shopping
Looking for that perfect gift for the nature lover in your life? Be sure to browse through the Monarch Watch Shop online at Shop.MonarchWatch.org where you'll find 1,000s of nature-related items. Remember, each and every purchase in the Monarch Watch Shop helps support our education, conservation, and research programs.
Thank you for your continued support and Happy Holidays!
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