Monarch Watch Update - September 18, 2003



1) Welcome!

2) Conservation Perspectives

3) 2003 Season Tags are Gone

4) Status of the Population

5) Conditions for Breeding

6) Conditions for the Migration

7) Tagging at the Baker Wetlands

8) Clustering and Mating

9) Tachinid Update

10) Upcoming Monarch Events

11) Open House

12) How to Unsubscribe from this Update


1) Welcome to Monarch Watch's Update List!

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2) Conservation Perspectives

A few months ago Jordi Honey Rosés, of the World Wildlife Foundation Mexico, offered to provide perspectives for these updates on the Monarch Biosphere Reserve in Mexico. This is the first of Jordi's reports. The prospects for change and progress toward conservation of the overwintering habitat for monarchs are better now than any time in recent years yet, the challenges and difficulties are still present and not getting any easier to deal with. As a person in the thick of it all, Jordi is in a unique position to provide a balanced view of the struggles to maintain the forests at the overwintering sites and the surrounding buffer zones.

Conservation Perspectives - by Jordi Honey Rosés
September 4th 2003

First time visitors to the Monarch butterfly colonies in Mexico always have a similar look of excitement in their eyes. Most are prepared with all the basics: Backpack, camera, hat, hiking boots, water bottle, Spanish-English dictionary. Not even the long plane ride, or chaotic taxi through Mexico City, and dizzying bus ride up the Transvolcanic mountain range has dampened their enthusiasm. The Monarch Butterfly aficionados can't wait to get their first glimpse of one of the world's most spectacular natural phenomenon.

The amazing biological questions abound. Is this really the destination of the migrating monarchs butterflies that pass through our backyards each Fall? How does the fragile insect know that these mountains are their final resting spot? How can they survive the journey, and why? What can explain it?

The peaceful experience of visiting an overwintering Monarch Butterfly colony rarely fails to meet their high expectations. However the visit to the overwintering sites frequently stirs up many social questions in addition to the fascinating biological questions that brought the visitor here in the first place. The poverty and deforestation are imposing and hard to ignore.

The inquiries I receive from first time visitors are all very similar. "What is driving the deforestation? Why does the logging continue? Is the migration in peril?" A visit to the colonies seems to rob them of their unbounded excitement and optimism; converting the tourist into conservationist and awaking their social consciousness.

While all of these questions are very good, the answers frequently are not. Yes, there is the simple story that attributes deforestation to the poor rural farmer that needs the timber income and wood resource for survival. "Meet Jose Cruz, poor Mexican farmer who struggles just to feed his family. Every week he removes one burro's load of wood from the sacred Monarch Butterfly forest in his struggle to survive the hardships of rural Mexico. Does his survival endanger the survival of the Monarch butterfly?..." such a story might read. But how accurate is this picture connecting local poverty with deforestation? Perhaps the situation is really much more complex, without any simple or singular answer. And no matter what explanation given, rarely are they completely satisfactory. At least for me personally, and after almost two years of living in Mexico, most answers still leave me wondering.

It might be the lack of answers from the Mexican Monarch Conservation community that is most unsettling. Aside than the cries of poverty, it is hard to hear a consistent message from Mexico that explains thoroughly the though issues surrounding Monarch butterfly conservation. Granted that language barriers and time constraints often thwart a comprehensive dialogue. Still, the silence from the Mexican side of Monarch Butterfly conservation is in complete contrast to the phenomenal education, research and communication projects in the United States such as Journey North ( and Monarch Watch (

This contrast might also lead one believe that little is being done on the Mexican side of the border, which is also far from true. While the conservation challenges in Mexico are great, so are the efforts to turn the tide through community work with the local people. The tremendous effort behind Monarch butterfly conservation in Mexico can hardly be appreciated by a quick visit to the colonies. Relying on what is seen on the surface would do a great injustice to those who struggle daily to protect the forest of the Monarch Butterfly.

Fortunately an open and fluid discussion among Monarch butterfly conservationists will help us find more complete answers to those questions that inevitably arise when one visits the Monarch colonies. Discussion can lead us to solutions. Especially those discussions that bridge the famed Mexican farmer with the enthusiastic tourist visiting Mexico for the first time.

About the Author
Jordi is from Sunnyvale, California and graduated from the University of California, Berkeley. He joined World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in Mexico City in November of 2001 and since has been privileged to join the trinational conservation efforts to protect the overwintering habitat of the Monarch Butterfly. When not chasing after Monarch Butterflies, Jordi enjoys triathlon training and reading about Mexican and European history.

Conservation Perspectives
Conservation Perspectives will provide regular and accurate updates on the local conservation issues at the Mexican overwintering sites of the Monarch Butterfly. This space will be a forum for discussion and sharing. The updates will serve as conduit for ideas and stories that are rarely heard from Mexican side of the border, especially those successes by local Mexican inhabitants to protect the forest of the Monarch Butterfly.


3) 2003 Season Tags are Gone

Well, they're all gone - we have distributed all 300,000 monarch tags for the 2003 season. We hope you received all of the tags you needed; if you didn't, remember to place your order for the 2004 Tagging Membership early ;-) - you will be able to order as early as November 1st.


4) Status of the Population - by Chip Taylor

Last year at this time I was predicting a relatively low fall and winter population and all the observations during the migration seemed to confirm these expectations. There were few reports of hundreds or thousands of clustering monarchs throughout the migration. In addition, for the first time, there were no emergency requests for additional tags by those who had suddenly discovered a mother lode of tagable monarchs. Things are better this year. In keeping with the expectation that this will be an excellent migration, large numbers of clustering monarchs have been reported in Minnesota, Iowa, Kansas, Manitoba, and Ontario. Similar reports are expected for other areas in the coming weeks. Tagging seems to be going well in most locations and complaints of too few butterflies to tag have been scarce.


5) Conditions for Breeding - by Chip Taylor

Some of you have wondered when breeding ends for the season. The answer is - when the last reproductive females dies at your latitude. At the end of the season the reproductive monarchs, even though they are exposed to the same physical conditions as the newly emerged butterflies that become migrants, do not migrate. Rather, they continue to mate and lay eggs until they die. The game that all organisms are engaged in is replication and it is probably the case that the chances of successful reproduction are greater for these reproductives if they keep on reproducing than if they migrate. Monarchs are still laying eggs in good numbers in Lawrence. I just returned (14 Sept) from the Pendleton Farm's asparagus patch east of Lawrence where I saw at least 40 worn female monarchs feeding on flowers and laying eggs on blue vine, Cynanchum leave. Even though migrants were passing through and have been in the area since at least the 6th, only a few were seen on the flowers that hosted these old females. I caught many of these females and all I tested had detectable spermatophores. Eggs laid by these monarchs would likely take 35 to 40 days to reach the adult stage at this time of year. The resulting adults would emerge 2-3 weeks after the migration effectively ends in this area (7 Oct) and at least 10 days after the average date of first frost. The possibility that these new adults would be able to join the migration and make it to Mexico would seem to be slim but perhaps not impossible. I have seen monarchs in eastern KS heading in southerly directions on many occasions in early November.


6) Conditions for the Migration - by Chip Taylor

If you would like to speculate about the conditions facing the monarchs as they move southward, take a look at the U.S. drought monitor

The path for monarchs from the upper Midwest though Texas suggests that they will encounter various forms of drought virtually the entire way to the Mexican border. Conditions appear to be normal east of a line that extends from Illinois, Arkansas and east, central, and south Texas. Monarchs need water and nectar during the migration but it is hard to determine from the drought monitor maps how much the drought affects the availability of flowers and water. Many of the fall flowers the monarch depends on are relatively drought tolerant and need only moderate rainfall in the weeks before flowering to produce nectar. This is the case in eastern KS. Even though most areas experienced 6-9 weeks with little or no rain during the heat of the summer, the rains over the labor day weekend were sufficient to bring the fall flowers into bloom. My bees are working again and there is an abundance of painted ladies, sulphurs, numerous other butterflies, and monarchs visiting the blossoms. Nectar is not is short supply in this area in spite of the drought.


7) Tagging at the Baker Wetlands 13 September - by Chip Taylor

(text modified from Dplex-L 13 Sept)

I have a new skill. I know how to make rain and get people (lots of them) wet - even when there is no rain in the forecast. All I have to do is schedule a monarch tagging event at the Baker Wetlands (Lawrence, KS) and the rains will come - and so will the people, in spite of the rain. We all got soaked today, the Monarch Watch crew, the folks from the Jayhawk Audubon Society, the Japanese film crew, the newspaper reporter, the Channel 6 camera man, and the taggers - probably close to 160 people in all. Given the rainfall, the number of participants was surprising and gratifying.

This is the second year in a row it has rained during the tagging. Last year is was a drizzle and we had about 150 people participate. This year we had a canopy tent but we still got wet. The rain was much harder this year and the people coming to the event must have known they were going to get soaked but they came anyway. Some came prepared to get wet and others just came as they were. They all got wet, yet they had fun.

There were 5,000-10,000 monarchs clustered in the tree island off the boardwalk in the wetlands. Because of the rain they stayed in the trees rather than scattering to feed on the nearby Bidens flowers. They were easy pickings for the taggers, if they could reach them with their nets. Almost everyone was successful and many tagged 20 or more monarchs before they got so wet they had to pour water out of their boots, wring out their clothes or head for a warm drink and a change of clothes. More than 600 monarchs were tagged - not a bad day considering the conditions and that we were still 3-6 days from the normal peak of the migration.


8) Clustering and Mating - by Chip Taylor

Most of us are aware that migrating monarchs cluster in trees at night during the migration; but did you know that reproductive monarchs exhibit a similar behavior? In fact, sometimes they cluster together as groups of mating pairs (and occasional stray individuals, usually males) at the end of the day...and I have the pictures to prove it.

While studying monarch mating behavior on previous occasions, I had encountered up to three pairs grouped close together in a tree or on a tall sunflower, but in mid August, I came upon numerous small groups of pairs. While collecting pairs in a weedy asparagus field one evening I saw several groups of two, a group of four, one of five and another of six. I resolved to bring my camera the next several nights and again found clusters of pairs. The pictures show one group of four pairs with a stray male, and another with six pairs and at least two males:

In the first group, the male wasn't content to stay in one place and he persisted in crawling among the pairs causing them to move frequently - it was actually quite amusing. Anyway, I don't really know what to make of this. It shows that reproductive, as opposed to migratory, monarchs cluster spontaneously when abundant - even in hot weather (the temperatures were over 100F each of these evenings). If you observe and/or photograph this behavior please let us know!


9) Tachinid Update - by Chip Taylor

As you may recall from the July and August updates, as a side project, I am rearing each of the third through fifth instar monarch larvae I find in the field this season to determine the number of tachinid fly parasitoids that occur in this area. This record should establish whether or not the incidence of parasitism, and the diversity of parasitoids, increases through the season. This has proven to be an interesting exercise and, as per my request last month, several of you have sent me samples of the fly parasitoids from your area. Thanks and please send me more.

The summary for each month given below is a bit deceiving. From late July to about the 15th of August we reared 26 monarch larvae in a row to the pupal stage with no parasitoids. It was beginning to look like the drought had had a strong negative impact on the tachinids. But, things changed and after the 15th - only 3 of the next 24 monarch larvae (12.5%) found in the field produced normal, fly free, pupae. This trend has continued into September with rates of parasitism continuing at +/- 90%.

Rate of parasitism of 3-5th instar larvae collected in the wild - summer 2003

Date / Parasitized / Normal / Deformed / Dead, other causes* / Proportion Parasitized**

Jun / 3 / 10 / 1 / 7 / .214

Jul / 3 / 14 / 0 / 1 / .176

Aug / 2 / 25 / 0 / 2 / .456

Total / 27 / 49 / 1 / 10 / .355***

* Disease or pesticide - symptoms of non-inclusion virus, pesticide poisoning and unknown.

** Proportion of all J (pre-pupation) or pupal stage immatures from which tachinid larvae emerged.

***The number of fly larvae emerging from each monarch larva or pupa is highly variable. The largest numbers, 6-8 fly larvae, emerge from nearly mature 5th instar monarch larvae. Smaller numbers emerge from pupae and late fourth and early fifth instar monarchs.


10) Upcoming Monarch Events

15-20 September - The Great Frederick Fair - Frederick, MD - Jim and Teresa Gallion, noted National Wildlife Federation Habitat Steward volunteers and Frederick County Master Gardeners will once again host a butterfly house at The Great Frederick Fair. Tagging and release of monarchs will take place during the week at 2pm and 4pm each day weather permitting. For more info visit

19 September Early PM - Monarch Watch in Central Park - Central Park (The castle), New York, NY - Monarch conservation and tagging activities.

19 September - Monarch Butterfly Fiesta Day at Black Hill Visitor Center, Black Hill Regional Park, Boyds, MD (301-916-0220) - Videos, nature walks and a whole lot more!

20 September - Tagging at Monarch Watch, Lawrence, KS - KU West Campus, Foley Hall

26 September - 19 October - Monarch Tagging at the State Fair of Texas (Dallas) - For more information about the State Fair, go to The tagging will be in the main hall (called Celebrity Kitchen) and butterflies will be re-released into the gardens. There is an admission to the fair, but the tagging and other events are free. For more information on the tagging, visit

27 September - Tagging at Monarch Watch, Lawrence, KS - KU West Campus, Foley Hall

27 September - Monarch tagging at Powell Gardens, Kingsville, MO - More info:

18 October TBA - Grapevine Butterfly Festival - Grapevine, TX - Butterfly festival & monarch tagging


11) Open House - by Chip Taylor

We have always wanted to have an Open House at Monarch Watch but have been unable to arrange one due to our cramped quarters in Haworth Hall. When the University gave us the opportunity to move into Foley Hall, we decided to hold an Open House to celebrate the new facilities and to connect with the people who have supported us in Lawrence and the surrounding area. We picked a great day (6 Sept) and Dave Ranney gave us a plug in the local paper. We didn't keep count - we couldn't, there were just too many people. The three parking lots near the building were filled much of the day. Even though there were eleven of us available to answer questions (the Monarch Watch crew as well as Jackie Goetz, Stephanie Darnell, and Betsy Betros from the Johnson Master Gardners Association) we were busy from 10 to 3. We gave out monarch and black swallowtail caterpillars to at least 200 children (and a few adults ;-) and we are guessing that at least 400 people attended the event. The Open House was scheduled to end at 3 but we still had families here at 4:30 and people showed up as late as 6:15; Jim was nice enough to give these late-comers the grand tour. Overall the event was a great success. The response from the public to this event, and to the plant fund raiser last spring, shows that we can connect with a large number of people in Lawrence and eastern KS (one family drove up from Emporia and there were several from Kansas City and the surrounding communities) if we have the facilities to do so.

We set up a web page for the event and posted photos throughout the day. The Monarch Watch "Critter Crew Cam" was also up and running and we had about 100 visitors from around the globe tuning in to see what was going on.

We'd like to thank everybody for coming out to see us and also thank Surveyor Corporation ( for donating their wonderful webcam software that allowed us to share the event with those that couldn't make it. We have plans for more webcams so stay tuned!


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