Monarch Watch Update - March 18, 2004



1) Welcome!

2) Conservation Perspectives

3) The Western Monarch Population

4) Status of the Population

5) Tag Recovery Fund

6) The "Off to Mexico" BLOG

7) Adopt-a-Classroom

8) iChatting from Mexico

9) New Monarch Poster Now Shipping

10) How to Unsubscribe from this Update


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2) Conservation Perspectives

"Mexican Monarch Butterfly Conservationists: Unknown and unsung"
By Jordi Honey-Rosés
World wildlife Fund, Mexico

Interests north of the Rio Grande (Rio Bravo) have largely driven monarch butterfly conservation since the "discovery" of the overwintering sites in 1975. Many are familiar with the story of Fred Urquart and his wife Nora, both Canadians, who led the tagging program and the search for the monarch colonies in the 1970’s. In the subsequent years American researchers such as Dr. Lincoln Brower and Bill Calvert led monarch butterfly research.

Only a handful of Mexicans have published about the monarch butterfly and its overwintering habitat: Alonso, Arellano, García, Hoth, Montesinos, Merino, Ramírez, and Rendón. Despite their work, Mexican efforts to protect the monarch’s overwintering sites are overlooked, not well communicated, or not fully understood by the larger North American monarch butterfly community.

Interestingly, language remains the primary communications barrier in monarch butterfly conservation. This barrier has probably been greater for Mexico since English has been adopted as the international language. The prestigious scientific journals are printed in English and the Universities of great repute are largely found in the United States.

Language is also a communication barrier between Mexican conservationists and the international press. Journalists tend to consult English-speaking experts first, even when discussing issues occurring in Mexico. To complicate matters, the Mexican press is often sensationalistic and uncritical of its local sources. Thus, stories in the Mexican press on monarch butterfly conservation often focus on the more sensationalistic and negative issues. The exception occurs at the opposite extreme, when the Mexican Government will orchestrate a press conference that touches up the "successes" of their work at the overwintering sites. The reality is usually found more in the middle. And, it is the inspiring stories from the local campesinos, or the day-to-day work of local Mexicans, that are hardly heard both in Mexico and internationally.

The 2002 monarch mortality was a relatively recent example of how the northern neighbors have continued to push forward the debate on monarch conservation. To everyone’s surprise the 2002 mortality data that showed that more monarchs had died in the storm than previously were have thought to overwinter. This astounding conclusion released by Dr. Lincoln Brower was published on the front page of New York Times with a color photograph in February of 2002. The news spread instantly among media outlets around the globe such as in Spain, England, France, and Argentina. Yet, as shocking as the results were, they probably would have resonated in far less corners of the world had the news been released by a Mexican media source as opposed to the New York Times. Just like the 1975 National Geographic article that revealed the "discovery" of the overwintering sites, the New York Times’ unveiling of this important monarch mortality showed how today’s debate on monarch butterfly conservation is heavily influenced from abroad.

What was less known in the mortality story was that an experienced Mexican biologist with nearly 10 years of monitoring work at the overwintering sites, Eduardo Rendón, collected the mortality samples together with (once again) an American in the person of David Kust. Eduardo Rendón exemplifies the Mexican monarch butterfly conservationist whose hard work and commitment, like many of his Mexican counterparts, goes largely unrecognized.

Eduardo has been working at the monarch overwintering sites since November 1993 and currently holds the position of Sub-Director in the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve. He began his monarch research as an undergraduate studying the relationship of forest density and monarch lipid loss at the overwintering sites with another Mexican researcher, Alfonso Alonso-Mejía.

Eduardo went on to obtain his Masters and begin his PhD degree studying the habitat of monarch butterflies in Mexico. His PhD work was partially funded by the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary Foundation, a wise investment since Eduardo is now one of the primary leaders in monarch butterfly conservation in Mexico.

Eduardo and the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve are under tremendous pressure to manage nearly all aspects of the Protected Area with minimal resources. For example, the monitoring of the monarch butterfly colonies alone should take a team of at least 10 well-trained biologists; however, the Reserve can only count on one full time biologist on staff. This understaffing doesn’t take away the constant pressure to answer the questions of how many monarchs arrived? Are the colonies in danger? And how many have died?

The same goes for reforestation work, where the Reserve coordinated (not implemented) the planting of over a million trees a year with only one forester on staff. The Reserve also oversees the granting of tourism permits to open the sanctuaries, rural development projects, and efforts to halt the illegal logging. In short, the workload for the staff at Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve is gigantic, and all with minimal resources, a small staff, and huge demands and expectations both in Mexico and internationally.

Eduardo and his Reserve staff already work weekends and stay at the office past 10 p.m. regularly. I am certain that Eduardo and his team would be able to perform better monitoring work, and publish those results if he had more time, more trained personnel, and better equipment.

Fortunately, to some extent international groups support the local efforts to protect the monarch butterfly with training, equipment and educational programs. Yet there is still much to be done. Meanwhile, it is encouraging to know that many Mexicans like Eduardo work very hard to protect the overwintering habitat of the monarch butterfly.

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) The Western Monarch Population

The following item is from a press release distributed on the Environmental News Network.

"From Trust for Public Land
Thursday, February 19, 2004
GOLETA, SANTA BARBARA CO. CA, 2/19/04 - The Trust for Public Land (TPL) announced today that the California Wildlife Conservation Board (WCB), at its Sacramento board meeting this morning, approved a $4 million grant toward TPL's efforts to save the 137-acre Ellwood Mesa property, located in the City of Goleta at the gateway to the Gaviota Coast. The WCB grant brings the total funds raised to date for the Ellwood Mesa purchase to more than $13.3 million."

For the complete article please see:


4) Status of the Population - by Chip Taylor

This is another good news/bad news report. The good news is that the monarchs are headed north from their overwintering grounds and have been reported from a number of inland localities in Texas to Dplex-L and Journey North. The bad news is that the number of returning monarchs is low due to the massive mortality resulting from the two storms in January (as reported in the last update).

In most years, the first monarchs sighted inland from the coast are reported toward the end of the first week in March, usually around the 5th. The first sighting in 2004, away from the coast or the lower Rio Grand Valley, was in Eldorado, Texas about 150 miles NW of San Antonio. This observation was followed by another sighting on the 2nd in Boerne, TX and one on the 5th in Austin. The distances from the overwintering sites to the first locations in Texas usually exceed 650 miles, giving rise to speculations in the past that these monarchs are not from the overwintering sites but have overwintered elsewhere. The assumption has been that the monarchs do not leave the colonies until the middle of March; this probably isn’t the case. Some years ago Eligo Garcia Serrano, who spent many years monitoring the overwintering monarch population, stated that monarchs began to move north in the second half of February. Such departure times are consistent with the small numbers of arrivals reported in the first two weeks of March each year in Texas. This points to the fact that little is known about when and how monarchs leave the overwintering sites. Do they have specific routes they take on the way north? This question was provoked once again on our recent trip to Mexico. We were driving in a more or less NW heading toward Maravatio on the road from El Oro at about 5PM on Saturday the 6th of March when, at km 62, I noticed monarchs crossing the road. Fortunately, we were able to pull off the road and we saw hundreds of monarchs, a stream that appeared to be about 100 yards wide, coming up the hill from a valley to the south. It was beginning to rain and many of the monarchs began to cluster in the trees. The stream of monarchs seemed to have a heading of 0-40 degrees, basically due north. I’m not sure where these monarchs came from, but this sighting occurred at least 20 miles from mountains that were high enough to have overwintering monarch colonies. Surely others have seen similar streams of monarchs moving northward. It would be interesting to plot the locations of these streams and determine how long they persist before the monarchs become more scattered.

A critical question each March is: how many monarchs survived the winter? Unfortunately, because some of the colonies move after catastrophic storms such as those that occurred this year and because the newly formed colonies are not measured (indeed some of them may not even be found) it is difficult to arrive at any quantitative assessment number of surviving monarchs. An additional complication is that the reformed colonies may be more scattered and less dense than the original colonies, giving an impression of a larger population than in fact is present. This appeared to be the case at Sierra Chincua in 2002. In February, following the January storm of that year, the reformed colony appeared to be more scattered and less dense than the well-formed colony we had seen just before the storm.

More to the point, how many survived this year? Roughly, very roughly, only 30% of the population appears to have survived. This works out to 1,222 trees with monarchs, or 3.37 hectares. The number could be substantially lower, or higher, if reformed colonies have not been found. Here is how I arrived at this estimate. In December, the personnel at the Reserva Biosphera Mariposa Monarca (RBMM) counted all colonies and arrived at a total of 4,036 trees with monarchs covering an area of 11.12 hectares. The trees at Sierra Chincua and El Rosario combined (2,920 trees) represented 72% of the total. This percentage is consistent with the long-term trend for these two sites, which usually constitute 60-70% of the total population. As best I can determine from interviewing a number of guides, tour leaders and tourists and from reports we’ve received from Drs. Tom Emmel and John Wenzel, at Sierra Chincua only about 300 monarch covered trees (and maybe as few as 250) remained in early March. This represents a 52% loss based on the original 620 trees counted in December by the RBMM. At El Rosario, the effect of the storms was far worse. For the last 6 weeks the guides at El Rosario have been taking tourists to a site with only 20-30 monarch-covered trees. If this all that remains of the 2,300 trees originally occupied at El Rosario, it suggests that 99% of the monarchs at this site died as result of the January storms. If we add 300 and 30 for these two sites and assume (again based on estimates of others) that 80% of the butterflies survived at the outlying sites, we get 330 + (.80 x 1,116= 893) or a season ending total of 1,222 occupied trees - roughly 3.37 hectares (using an average of 363 trees/hectare). A 70% loss due to the January storms seems staggering but if we look the number of monarchs returning in the springs of 2001 and 2002 (about 2 hectares or less each year) the number returning this year, around 3 hectares, would seem to be adequate to repopulate the breeding areas throughout the United States and Canada east of the Rockies.

In reviewing this assessment, I would like to think that more than 1% of the monarchs survived at El Rosario, but I know of no evidence for this. However, it also seems likely, given the stories we heard about the severity of the storms, that fewer than 80% of the monarchs survived at many of the outlying sites. Overall, it only seems safe to conclude that 2-4 hectares (18-36%) of the butterflies remained at the end of the winter season.

Fortunately, winter rainfall in Texas has been abundant and well distributed and conditions should be favorable for monarch reproduction. In general, in the South the conditions that favor monarchs also favor fire ants. Nevertheless, I expect monarchs to do well in Texas in March and April. A check of the drought monitor site

shows that moisture conditions are favorable throughout the breeding area with the exception of the Dakotas, eastern Nebraska, and Minnesota. However, monarchs will not reach these areas until mid May or later and spring rains could improve conditions in these areas before their arrival.


5) Tag Recovery Fund - by Chip Taylor

As predicted in the February update, the storms of January produced an abundance of tags. We were somewhat prepared, but the number of tags recovered at El Rosario exceeded our expectations. On Sunday the 29th we arrived at El Rosario thinking we could buy up a substantial proportion of the tags. However, it became immediately apparent that many people had over 100 tags and that we would run out of money before we had bought tags from more than a few of the guides and ejido members. We decided to limit each person to no more than 40 tags per day and we soon had to give out numbers so that those whom we were unable to buy tags from one day could be served the next time. Our goal was to distribute the available funds as broadly as we could. On the first day we bought 759 tags and over 400 tags a day on each of three other days we visited El Rosario.

In addition, we bought 174 tags at Sierra Chincua on our last day in the area. At Cerro Pelon, Jose Luis Alvarez, on several visits to the area, has helped us purchase another 150 tags. A few more tag numbers have been recovered via photos. In all, we purchased 2,377 tags at a cost of nearly $12,000. This exceeds the 1,900 tags purchased after the winter storm in 2002. The number of records for recovered tags this year will exceed 2,600. And, this isn’t all. On our last day at El Rosario, after we ran out of money, we gave each person who still had tags a number on the back of one of our Monarch Watch bookmarks with the promise that we would buy tags from these people by the numbers next year. We distributed at 40-50 numbers in all and if each has 40 tags, there could be at least another 2,000 tags to purchase next season.

We broke the bank by purchasing this many tags - this was far more money than we had to spend. We appreciate the contributions many of you have made to the Tag Recovery Fund. This has been a great help to us and to all those whose tags we purchased. Some checks are still arriving but overall we’ve raised $3,205 in the last month to add to the fund’s balance of $2,816 - for a total of $6,021. We promised to contribute $5000 from our operating budget for the cost of tags and this brings the total to $11,021. We’ve spent $11,824 on tags thus far so these expenditures put us in the hole by $800. This isn’t too bad and again we want to thank all of you who have contributed to the Tag Recovery Fund.

However, we need your continued support. From what we’ve seen at El Rosario, we will have to raise at least $10,000 for next year to cover the costs of the 2003 tags now held by the ejido members. Although tag recoveries following winter storms produce masses of data, they also increase our costs in other ways, since there are increased mailings (certificates), higher communication costs, and we need to hire hourly students to help collate the data. Therefore, we are still in need of contributions to the Tag Recovery Fund - we really need the help. There is no way to predict the catastrophic mortality that creates these costs, but this event, and that of 2002, emphasize the need for corporate sponsorship to help us through these rough spots.


6) The "Off to Mexico" BLOG - by Chip Taylor

Do you know Jim Lovett? Jim is the quiet behind-the-scenes guy who makes everything at Monarch Watch possible. If you read the weB LOG (BLOG) that Jim created and posted online chronicling our trip to Mexico, you now know of his considerable technological skills, his choice of music, and his sly humor. Jim stayed up late writing the text and editing the photos and hours in Mexico posting these materials to the web site (the internet connections we found weren’t very fast). How about that ride through the mountains south of Linares, Nuevo Leon? Wasn’t that fun? It’s a good thing we didn’t meet a semi-trailer coming down the mountain just a wee bit over the center line. Each day on this trip was packed so full that it is now a blur but we have the BLOG to refresh our memories and to give you an idea of how we spent our time in Mexico. You can check it out online at


7) Adopt-a-Classroom - by Chip Taylor

Perhaps you’ve noticed that we haven’t said much about our Adopt-a-Classroom program over the last year. There is a reason. By the winter of 2002/2003 we had accumulated nearly seven tons of materials (enough to require a semi-trailer to transport) to deliver to the schools in Mexico. Our attempts to get these donated materials into Mexico met with many obstacles, frustrations, and expenses and we decided to put Adopt-a-Classroom on hold until we could work out a government to government understanding to facilitate the program. While in Mexico on our recent trip, we met with the subsecretary of administration for the state of Michoacán, José Jesús Calderón Morales, to explain the problem of getting the donated materials into Mexico and delivered to the schools. As a result of this meeting, we now have official support for our endeavors to help the schools in the vicinity of the monarch reserves.

If you are associated with schools, we are one again accepting donated schools supplies (used or new) for delivery to about 100 K-6 schools in Mexico. At the end of the year the students in our schools often discard items that can still be used in Mexican schools. The list of needed items is long, everything from crayons and marking pens to paper and backpacks; in fact, most everything used in our schools except English language texts. We also need funds to finance portions (storage, shipping, etc.) of this program. In the past, schools have helped Adopt-a-Classroom by collecting supplies and by holding aluminum can drives or other fund-raisers. We can also accept tax-deductible donations which can be sent to us at

Monarch Watch
University of Kansas
1200 Sunnyside Avenue
Lawrence, KS 66045



8) iChatting from Mexico - by Chip Taylor

Before leaving for Mexico, we made arrangement with several schools to try to connect with them via iChatAV (for more information about this communications technology see below). We knew the possibilities for a video chat were limited (broadband access is hard to come by) so we planned to connect with audio only. However, for reasons that are not entirely clear, this wasn’t possible from Angangueo. Nevertheless, we were able to communicate via iChat’s instant messaging (text-based chat) with Karen Vitek and her class in Poughkeepsie, NY. You can view this communication by reading the March 4th entry in our "Off to Mexcio" blog at:

On our last day in Mexico, Monday the 8th, we were able to conduct an audio chat with Dave Kust and his 4th grade class at Breck School in Minneapolis. This was great fun and showed the promise of this technology.

Now that we have returned to the States, we will get back to our agenda, part of which includes encouraging some of you to iChat with us, or with each other, about monarchs. If you would like participate in an iChat, please read through our iChat page at

and then contact us via email. If you have any questions about this please feel free to drop us a line at anytime.


9) New Monarch Poster Now Shipping

As we mentioned in the last update, we have added a new poster to our educational offerings in our online storefront. It is a beautiful 13.5" x 20" photo montage created by artist and monarch enthusiast Ron Brancato. The poster illustrates the entire life cycle of the monarch butterfly and includes descriptive captions, making it the perfect blend of art and education. This poster is now available in laminated ($15) and non-laminated (suitable for framing, $14) formats.

To view and/or order the poster visit:

We are working closely with Ron on lots of new products that will be based on his beautiful monarch photos so be sure to visit our website regularly for updates :-) Also, if there are other monarch/nature related items that you would like to see us create and/or make available in our storefront, please drop us a line and let us know.

Remember, each and every purchase you make in "Gulliver's Gift Shop" supports Monarch Watch!


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