Monarch Watch Update - April 19, 2004



1) New Format for Updates

2) Status of the Population

3) Monarch Watch Open House and Plant Fundraiser

4) The Western Monarch Population

5) Conditions for Monarchs Moving North

6) New Tag Policy

7) Tag Recovery Update

8) Tag Recovery Fund

9) Every Little Bit Helps

10) Status of the 2003 Recoveries

11) Conservation Perspectives

12) The European Paper Wasp

13) About Our Update List


1) New Format for Updates

Our monthly email updates ("eNewsletters") are now in a transition period. The content delivered in these monthly communications continues to evolve and we hope you are getting a lot out of them. We realize that some of the articles are a bit too long to include in an email message, especially when there are nine or ten other topics we'd like you to see.

In an effort to make the updates more accessible and enjoyable to all of the Monarch Watchers (over 8,000 subscribers to our eNewsletter worldwide!) we are going to do a little reformatting. Our initial thoughts are to limit the content delivered via email to a paragraph or so per article; if an article requires more space than this, a link to the full text on our website will be provided. Additionally, the monthly updates will continue to be archived at

as they have always been.

We'd love to get feedback from you about this. If you have questions, comments, or suggestions please feel free to drop me a line at anytime - thanks!



2) Status of the Population - by Chip Taylor

It’s not looking good - the monarchs do not appear to be off to a good start. The first monarchs, presumably returning migrants, to be seen interior of the Texas coast each year are usually reported in the first week of March. Monarchs were sighted in early March this year as well, but the number of reports for the last 5 weeks is far below normal for this period. Further, the number of monarchs reported from states north and east of Texas is low. A perusal of the archives of first sightings posted to Journey North ( over the last four spring seasons shows that by the 9th-12th of April monarchs have been reported from 10-15 states and have usually reached latitudes as far as 36-38 degrees N. As of the 9th, monarchs had only been reported from 7 states and only three had been seen north of 30 degrees. The low number of reports of monarchs and the restricted distribution of these sightings raises a number of questions.

In last month’s update I summarized what I had been able to learn about the size of the overwintering population, the mortality due to the two severe winter storms in January, and the number of surviving monarchs. I concluded that as much as 70% of the overwintering monarchs had died as a result of the two storms but that the equivalent of 3 hectares of monarchs had survived. The number of surviving butterflies appeared to be greater than in the springs of 2001 and 2002 and I was optimistic that the recolonization of the United States would proceed at a normal pace, especially since the soil moisture in Texas is at normal or above normal levels favoring the growth of milkweed. What, if anything, has gone wrong? I really don’t know, but here are some facts to consider from the NOAA website:

For Texas: "The average temperature in March 2004 was 61.4 F. This was 4.1 F warmer than the 1895-2004 average, the 17th warmest March in 110 years."

An average of "2.25 inches of precipitation fell in March. This was 0.49 inches more than the 1895- 2004 average, the 34th wettest such month on record."


Thus, it was hotter and wetter than normal through most of Texas for March and we can ask how these two conditions affected the number of monarchs seen and reported as well as the monarchs themselves. Rainfall, particularly on weekends when most observers are likely to encounter monarchs, is likely to reduce the number of sightings and reports. High soil moisture and well distributed flowering throughout Texas is also likely to spread the butterflies out such that they are seen less often in the garden islands of moisture and nectar humans provide. In other words, in dry springs a greater proportion of the monarch population is likely to be seen in gardens and therefore reported. Let’s hope that this has been the case this year. But, how are the monarchs affected? In general, unlimited nectar and moisture should favor successful reproduction as long as there are plenty of milkweed plants and enough morning hours without rainfall for the females to lay eggs. On the other hand, elevated temperatures will reduce the longevity of the butterflies. In effect, they will wear out, or burn out, faster and there will be fewer butterflies surviving to move to states beyond Texas. It is probably the case that the majority of overwintering monarchs die in Texas before the end of March. Some undetermined proportion survive and move north and east through April, with the last of these dying in the first few days of May near 40 degrees N. The number surviving into April probably depends on many factors, but it seems likely that these numbers are greater in cooler springs. The likelihood that more than a few of the overwintering monarchs will reach 40N, or even 35N, this year appears to be slim.

So, how successful monarchs are in reproducing in Texas each spring is key to the recolonization of the rest of the country east of the Rockies and Canada. How successful will they be this year? We will have to wait for this answer but not for long - the first monarchs to mature from eggs laid by the earliest returning migrants are taking flight now in South Texas and new monarchs will be on the wing over much of the rest of Texas in the next two weeks. New butterflies moving NNE out of Texas should be seen at flowers or in flight (usually powered flight rather than gliding or soaring) 3-4 meters above ground from the third week of April through the first week of June. Let’s hope it’s a good flight or this will be a summer with few monarchs.

Another explanation for the low number of sightings might be the size of the returning population. I’m inclined to think this is not a factor but I could be wrong. If one compares the first sightings reported in the springs of 2001 and 2002 by Journey North - two years in which the surviving populations were even lower in number than in 2004 - the numbers of spring sightings and the pattern of the spread of monarchs was more typical of normal years. The temperatures for March in Texas in both years were below normal, which supports the thesis I offered above on the effects of temperature. Precipitation in Texas in March 2001 was above normal and may have been instrumental in the recovery of this low population the following summer. Normal precipitation occurred in 2002. The amount of rainfall during these years does not support my speculation that moisture influences the number of monarchs reported but, as I suggested, the timing of the rainfall could be a factor that influences reporting. For the maps showing the spring sightings posted by Journey North for 2001 and 2002 see


3) Monarch Watch Open House and Plant Fundraiser

You are cordially invited to join us on Saturday, May 15th 8am-3pm for an Open House and Plant Fund Raiser 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 1,000 butterfly plants (both annuals and perennials) including seedlings of five species of milkweed, will be available (modest contributions are suggested). We will provide refreshments, lots of show & tell, iChat videoconferencing demonstrations, a gazebo in the greenhouse with unusual butterflies, 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 Western Monarch Population

We have two reports from west of the Rockies this month. The first, from Sarah Stock, is on the winter population dynamics of monarchs in Monterey County, CA and the second is another account of the efforts of Goleta, CA to raise funds to secure and protect a 137 acre monarch overwintering site known as Ellwood Main (Ellwood Mesa) in the city of Goleta. The amount of funds involved, about $20.4 million dollars, is more than three times the amount used to support the efforts to conserve the overwintering sites in Mexico.

Monarch Butterfly Population Dynamics in Monterey County, California: Summary of Winter 2003-2004

By: Sarah Stock of Ventana Wilderness Society

As part of a collaborative long term monitoring study with California Polytechnic biologists Dr. Dennis Frey and Shawna Stevens, biologists from Ventana Wilderness Society (VWS) embarked on the 3rd year of collecting standardized winter population data on monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) in Monterey County, while Cal Poly biologists monitored sites in San Luis Obispo County.

Each year VWS biologists monitor eight winter roost sites on the central California coast in Monterey County. We estimate numbers of monarchs weekly at all sites, documenting arrival and departure dates, cluster aspect and height, weather, and the availability of nectar and water.

In winter 2003-2004, we documented the largest number of butterflies overwintering in Monterey County since the study began. The peak number of butterflies occurred during the month of December. The highest count of the winter reached a total of 71,566 butterflies on December 3rd for all sites in Monterey County combined. This count is quite high compared to the highest weekly count in winter 2001 (January 8th) of 45,235 butterflies and winter 2002 (December 9th) of 13,083 butterflies.

Six sites (in order of most to least: Pacific Grove Monarch Grove Sanctuary, private property site, Andrew Molera State Park, Point Lobos State Reserve, Plaskett Creek Campground, and George Washington Park), showed characteristics of climax sites, maintaining large numbers of monarch butterflies throughout the season. The other two sites (Prewitt Creek and Palo Colorado) showed characteristics of transitional sites, with numbers of monarch butterflies declining to zero early or midway through the season.

At the climax site with the greatest number of monarch butterflies (Monarch Grove Sanctuary in Pacific Grove), we observed an apparent shift in tree use from non-native Blue Gum Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus) to the native Monterey Cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa) in January, during the peak of the winter storm season. At all climax sites, we observed a general dispersal from previously used trees to various tree species and shrubs in mid-February. Results from this study suggest that the central coast of California is an important overwintering region for western populations of monarch butterflies. Long-term monitoring of these overwintering populations is warranted, and further study of monarch butterflies’ tree species usage relative to microclimate is necessary to further confirm our findings of seasonal variation in use of tree species over the course of the winter at specific sites.


The report on a $4 million dollar grant to the city of Goleta, CA for the acquisition of Ellwood Mesa can be found at:


5) Conditions for Monarchs Moving North - by Chip Taylor

The Drought Monitor web site ( shows that dry conditions predominate in most of Nebraska and the Dakotas. Incipient dry conditions appear to be developing in Minnesota and western Wisconsin, the middle portion of the New England states, as well as an area in the SE extending from Louisiana, Mississippi, the panhandle of Florida, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina and part of North Carolina. The moisture conditions for the remainder of the country appear to be favorable. Of some concern are the high temperatures of March that were 5.2 degrees above normal for the entire country, the third warmest March in the past 110 years

If this trend continues, the summer will be hot and dry and those conditions do not favor monarchs.


6) New Tag Policy

We would like to take this opportunity to explain our newly revised Tagging Kit pricing and policies for the 2004 tagging season. In a nutshell, the 2004 Tagging Membership ($25) includes 25 tags; beyond that, additional sets of 25 tags are available for $4 each. There are no restrictions as to how many additional tags you can purchase beyond the original Tagging Membership.

Next year we will be addressing the issue of redistribution of Monarch Watch tags (via nature centers, schools, etc.) by creating specialized Tagging Kits. Our initial thoughts include a kit with a number of smaller tagging kits with the possible addition of informational/educational materials (posters? postcards? bookmarks?). We are obviously in the very early stages with this plan and we would like to solicit some feedback from those of you that have received a large number of tags in the past. What would be an attractive solution for you? How do you distribute tags? Do you distribute other materials with the tags? Please let us know! Our ultimate goal is not to prevent the redistribution of tags, but rather to better serve all of the taggers that get involved with Monarch Watch while ensuring that we receive data sheets that represent these efforts.

These changes are needed since we receive many datasheets from people that (1) are not in our tagger database and (2) obviously didn't receive complete information about Monarch Watch and the importance of accurate data. Too often these data sheets include incomplete or incorrect data - partial tag codes; "KS 66045" (the state and zip code on the tag) reported as the tag number for an entire sheet of tags; no name, address or any contact information for the tagger. Other times we may not receive the datasheets at all. We also get many calls and emails from people wanting to know where their butterfly is - so they don't really understand how the program works. Processing recoveries from any of these "problem" datasheets costs us quite a bit in time and money, both of which could be better spent on other aspects of the program.

The point here is that we want to provide the best possible tagging experience for everyone involved and at the same time provide enough education about Monarch Watch so that we receive everything we need to be able to report accurate results of this scientific study. To this end, we also need to make the entire tagging process, from placing orders for tags all the way to reporting recovery data (there's a lot in between that you may not realize) more efficient and cost effective.

Briefly, a few things about Monarch Watch to keep in mind are:

- Only two full-time staff members (Jim & Sarah) are employed by Monarch Watch
- Several students are hired on an hourly basis for "critter crew" and data entry
- The cost of tagging kits does not come close to funding the tagging program
- The University of Kansas does not financially support Monarch Watch
- Monarch Watch has no standing corporate or governmental support (grants, etc.)
- Monarch Watch relies on private contributions for support

Over the years we have attempted to educate everyone involved with Monarch Watch about the inner workings of our program, but it seems we haven't communicated this effectively. We are dedicated to improving communication with all Monarch Watchers around the globe and plan to make a number of improvements (to the website, the email updates, printed material, etc.) to facilitate this. We welcome any feedback (positive or negative) and promise to do our best to address your concerns. With your help we can make Monarch Watch even better.

If you have any questions about any of this new policy or about Monarch Watch in general, please feel free to drop us a line at Thank you!


Chip, Jim & Sarah


7) Tag Recovery Update

Tag recoveries are still being received and each week brings an email with lists of tags or a letter with tags and information on where, when and from whom they were purchased. We wish to thank all those who acquired tags and have passed that information to us. If any of you know of additional tags, please report them to us soon. We are compiling our list and checking it twice and it’s easier when we have all the records in place. Thus far, we have 2,377 recoveries from Mexico and about another 150 from the United States. We are anticipating the arrival of at least another 150 tags from Mexico. The total should exceed 2,600 - the largest number of tags recovered in one year. When we started Monarch Watch in the early 90s, we were thrilled to get a few recoveries in Mexico each year, now it’s a flood of data. We will tell you about our plans to analyze these data this summer in another update.

If you followed the web log (BLOG) that Jim created during our recent trip to Mexico, you know that we went to extraordinary lengths to determine the ratio of untagged monarchs for every tagged monarch. We counted 40,000 butterflies (see photos in BLOG) and recovered one tagged monarch and another that had clearly lost its tag. The tags were well placed in the center of the discal cell in both cases. It’s likely that the lost tag was issued before the 2003 season. The adhesive used on the tags deteriorates with age (the manufacturer tells us it has a shelf life of one year) and is therefore one reason not to use old tags.

You can view the entire BLOG (full of photos! :-) at


8) Tag Recovery Fund - by Chip Taylor

Last month we reported that $6,021 had been received for the tag recovery fund. An additional $825 has been received in recent weeks bringing the total to $6846.61. These funds and the $5,000 we committed from our operating budget toward the purchase of tags bring the total available for the purchase of tags to $11,846. This amount is almost an exact match for the $11,824 we actually spent on tags. This match of income and expenses is fantastic, and may be a first in the history of our program, but next year is another matter. As we reported last month, we ran out of money when buying tags and estimate that the residents at the sanctuaries are still in possession of at least 2000 tags found on butterflies killed by the storms and freezing weather in January. This means that we have to raise $13,000 for tags for next year, $10,000 for the 2004 recoveries and $3,000 in anticipation that 600 tags will be recovered in the winter of 2005. Our expectation is that the population will be lower next winter and that winter conditions will be normal. If there are additional storms that devastate the overwintering population again $13,000 won’t be enough.

These future expenses forced us to come to grips with the fact that we have been losing money on the memberships and sale of extra tags. Hence the revised policy on the cost of extra tags. These changes won’t cover the deficit we anticipate but they will keep us from losing even more money on the extra tags.

Again, we want to thank all of you who have contributed to the Tag Recovery Fund. We really appreciate your support. Your contributions have provided us with an unprecedented amount of data. The more than 2600 tags we are processing is nothing short of extraordinary and wouldn’t be possible without the efforts of thousands of taggers and the financial support from many of you.When we started this program twelve years ago, fewer than 100 monarchs had been recovered in Mexico from 1974 to 1992. The number of monarchs recovered in Mexico now exceeds 7,000 - a testimony to the generous assistance of all who have participated in Monarch Watch over the years.


9) Every Little Bit Helps

Some of the smallest Monarch Watchers helped contribute to the tag recovery fund this year. Becky Collins' kindergarten class at David Lipscomb Elementary in Nashville, TN decided to raise money for Monarch Watch by collecting cans. They got the whole school involved and collected over 200 lbs. of aluminum cans which they turned in at a local recycling center - they were then able to contribute $74 to the Tag Recovery Fund! A big THANK YOU goes out to Becky Collins' Kindergarten Class - we appreciate all of your hard work!


10) Status of the 2003 Recoveries

Due to the calls and e-mails we are receiving, we know that several of our taggers are anxious to hear about their recoveries. We are doing our very best to get the data entered and posted as quickly as possible. However, please keep in mind that we returned from Mexico on March 12 and it took me almost two weeks to get caught up. I am working on the 2,300 tags we brought back with us as time permits. I do hope to have them posted sometime this summer. Unfortunately, there isn't much that the public can do to help. The best thing to do is to try to remember that 2,300 recoveries in Mexico is a LOT of recoveries, so please be patient! The 2003 recoveries will be posted online as soon as possible and we will also provide progress reports in this monthly email.

Thank you for your patience!


11) Conservation Perspectives

"Shifting Priorities in Monarch Conservation"
By Jordi Honey-Rosés

In the last ten years the debate on Monarch butterfly conservation in Mexico has evolved considerably. In the 1990s, the discussion often pitted conservationists against the local campesinos in a struggle over how best to use or protect the forest resource. Monarch butterfly conservation in Mexico was cited to illustrate the conflict between human needs and the protection of a species habitat: where local farmers pressured to continue logging and conservationists sought permanent protection of the Monarch’s habitat.

Today, even the most casual observer would see a much different story. Now conservationists and many local campesinos are united and working together for the same objective: to stop the illegal logging. Thus, the dichotomy between conservation vs. human needs is increasingly loosing its relevance in the Monarch overwintering area.

The local communities do not benefit from the illegal logging. When timber is unfairly stolen from them, the profits never reach the owners of the timber. The beneficiaries of the timber trafficking are few, and mostly living above the law and outside the region. In response, the Ejidos and Indigenous communities have written letters to the management of the protected area, local officials, and WWF seeking help to stop the illegal loggers. The agrarian communities are also organizing local watch groups and renting heavy machinery to build huge ditches that obstruct road access to their forest, and thereby prevent logging trucks from entering. Meetings are being held weekly to discuss where the illegal logging is taking place and what can be done locally to stop it.

The alliance between the local people, conservation organizations, and some key members of the Mexican government is a significant step forward in Monarch butterfly conservation and marks a major difference from the type of discussions held in Mexico several years ago.

To illustrate this, last March 23rd-25th the Monarch Butterfly Regional Forum concluded that the illegal logging is a top priority in the Monarch butterfly protected area. The Forum consisted of a three-day conference that brought together the different institutions supporting monarch butterfly conservation in Mexico. Participants in the Forum divided into nine thematic working groups: Protected Area Management, Environmental Education, Tourism, Land Use Planning, Rural Development Projects, Research, Forest Inventory, Law Enforcement, and an International Working Group, who were each charged with identifying thematic and geographic priorities.

The Working Group on Law Enforcement had the highest number of participants and included the participation of many important government officials, such as the Director of Protected Area system (CONANP) in Mexico. Local campesinos were able to openly discuss their confrontations with the illegal loggers. In addition to the Working Group on Law Enforcement, the International Working Group also concluded that the illegal logging should be given the top priority. The sentiment in the International group was so strong that it was decided to draft a short declaration:

"As the International Group of the Monarch Butterfly Regional Forum we declare that stopping the illegal logging is the maximum priority.

We have the responsibility to document and report the logging when it occurs. If the forest disappears, it will be difficult to justify the support with human and financial resources in the area of the monarch butterfly, including research.

We request that this declaration denouncing the illegal logging be disseminated to various governmental institutions, the media, national and international Forums as well as the President of the Republic (Mexico)."

March 25th 2004, Valle de Bravo, Mexico

The Forum was also remarkable for what was not said. Unlike the 1997 Morelia Conference, there were no requests by the communities to increase the logging in the core area, or even to remove the protected area as it currently stands. This change in priorities by the local inhabitants is a remarkable turnaround given that for years the protected area has fought to gain legitimacy and acceptance in the region.

Unfortunately, it only takes a few willing workers, intimidation, and unprotected forest plots to continue the illegal deforestation. So clearly, halting the illegal logging will not be an easy task. Nevertheless, a new consensus that immediate action must be taken to stop this short-term threat has been emerging among conservationists in Mexico. These short-term activities must be balanced with other long-term strategies that can address the driving forces behind the deforestation. Still, the recently formulated consensus has clearly identified illegal logging as the primary threat that needs attention now.

The conclusions and memoirs of the Monarch Butterfly Regional Forum will be made available at


12) The European Paper Wasp

As you may recall, the Update for December 2003 contained a brief summary of the biology of the introduced European paper wasp, Polistes dominulus and a discussion of its possible impact.

Whitney Cranshaw, an economic entomologist and specialist on garden insects at Colorado State University, recently (6 April) made the following observation on ENTOMO-L, a list serve for entomologists:

"I don't think there has been any introduced insect that I have observed in my 20 years here that has so rapidly spread and impacted insect life in Colorado than Polistes dominulus (a.k.a., the European paper wasp). First observed in the state 5 years ago it is now found in every town, on both sides of the Continental Divide, and is extremely abundant. It has extirpated essentially every caterpillar in Ft. Collins by mid-July in the past 2 years and I am sure is having a major ecological impact."

The European paper wasp is spreading rapidly and could significantly impact monarchs and butterfly populations in general, especially in cities. If you see this insect

please report it to us and we will see that the scientists that are tracking this species receive your sighting. Field studies of the impact of this caterpillar predator on butterfly populations are badly needed.


13) About Our Update List

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Monarch Watch ( is a not-for-profit educational outreach program based at the University of Kansas. We run a Monarch tagging program and offer Monarch Rearing Kits, Monarch Tagging Kits, and other educational/promotional materials that allow you to actively experience the monarch life cycle and its spectacular fall migration.If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us anytime!

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