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Dr. Fred Urquhart – In Memoriam

The following is an obituary notice for Dr. Fred Urquhart, founder of studies of the monarch migration, that appeared in the University of Toronto Bulletin (7) Monday, June 9, 2003

Urquhart Was Renowned Butterfly Expert

UrquhartProfessor Emeritus Frederick Urquhart of zoology, an internationally renowned expert in the migration patterns of the monarch butterfly, died Nov. 3, 2002, at the age of 90.

Born in Toronto, Urquhart began his career at the university as a student, enrolling in biology in 1931 and graduating at the top of his class in 1935. He was awarded a B.A. Bensley Fellowship to undertake graduate studies in entomology, completing his MA in 1937 and PhD in 1940. Following graduation he joined the meteorological division of the Department of Transport and taught meteorology to students in the RCAF until the end of the war. In 1945 he became the assistant director of zoology at the royal Ontario Museum and in 1948 was cross-appointed as an assistant professor in zoology. The following year he became director of zoology and paleontology at the ROM and in 1961 he assumed full-time duties as an associate professor of zoology, becoming a full professor in 1963.

In 1966 Urquhart became one of three initiators and organizers of the zoology teaching and research program at Scarborough College, providing outstanding leadership until his retirement in 1977. An engaging lecturer, Urquhart was one of the few people at Scarborough to produce a highly successful television lecture series.

Although his research interests were broad -- with four books, a monograph and 62 papers in refereed journals and countless scientific reports and popular articles relating to a wide range of biological subject matter to his credit -- Urquhart's first love was butterflies, an interest begin in childhood. Books and papers at school and in the library spurred his investigations and led him to ask the question: Where do monarch butterflies go in the winter? Urquhart's first attempt in 1937 to follow the monarch by marking individual butterflies met with limited success. But by 1940 he'd developed a method of tagging that worked and after the war he and his wife, Norah, whom he married in 1945, tagged thousands of monarchs, affixing a tiny label to the wing, reading "Send to Zoology University of Toronto Canada." In 1952 he issued the first appeal for volunteers to assist with the tagging and over the next 20-odd years thousands of people had participated. In January 1975 these efforts paid off when Ken and Cathy Brugger of Mexico City called to tell Urquhart they'd found millions of monarchs on the Neovolcanic Plateau about 240 km from Mexico City. In 1976 the Urquharts were able to see the spectacular sight for themselves.

Now over a dozen sites on five mountains have been identified as winter habitat for monarchs and these are protected as ecological preserves by the Mexican government, largely through Urquhart's early influence and advocacy. In Canada attention is focused on maintaining milkweed, the sole food of monarch larvae, another of Uruqhart's concerns.

"Large numbers of people were encouraged to be citizen-scientists and a lot of people got involved internationally. It had quite an electrifying effect on butterfly migration studies," said Professor David Gibo, whose research focuses on the flight tactics of the monarch. "Without his work, knowing where the monarchs headed and the multiple pathways they used to get there, I couldn't have asked the right questions for my own research."

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

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