Monarch Watch Update - June 22, 2004



1) Illegal Logging Within the Monarch Sanctuaries

2) Status of the Population

3) Western Monarchs

4) Recoveries for the 2003 Tagging Season

5) Monarch Watch Tagging Kits and Rearing Kits

6) Season Summaries

7) Effects of Transgenic Crops on Milkweeds

8) New Book on Monarchs

9) Monarch Watch Open House and Plant Fundraiser

10) Upcoming Events

11) About Our Update List


1) Illegal Logging Within the Monarch Sanctuaries – by Chip Taylor

Last month’s update led off with coverage of illegal logging at Sierra Chincua, typically the site of approximately 30% of the monarchs that overwinter in Mexico each year. This month’s update contains translations of a number of articles that are relevant to this issue and references to others including an article in the New York Times and a report from the World Wildlife Fund Mexico on the illegal logging from 2001-2004. I have added some annotations here and there to give you an idea of my perspective on the facts, ideas, attitudes, and omissions in these articles. In addition, I have included some speculation about the international dynamics that may be contributing to the deforestation in Mexico. As usual, I’ve included a few thoughts on what seems to be needed to reduce illegal logging within the Biosphere Reserve.

[ Due to the length of the complete article it has been given its own page at ]


2) Status of the Population – by Chip Taylor

If you have been following these "Status of the Population" reports in the updates over the last 6 months, you are aware that this has been a most unusual year. Due to the two devastating storms in January (which appeared to have killed approximately 70% of the overwintering monarchs), the slow spring with an unusually low number of sightings, and the dearth of observations from April until late May, the prospects for the buildup of the population and a good fall migration looked slim. However, as I pointed out in the last update, we would be able to give a better assessment of the population once the first generation butterflies moved northward to the site of the major summer breeding grounds. Reports to Dplex-L and Journey North ( through the 6th of June suggest that the number of butterflies returning to the northern states and Canadian provinces is similar to most years through the first week of June. The numbers of butterflies reported are about equal to those reported in 2002 and 2003 but lower than 2001.

Conditions also appear favorable for breeding. A check with "Drought Monitor" for 15 June 2004

indicates that although drought lingers or is even increasing in some states (western Dakotas, western Nebraska and Kansas as well as Arkansas, Oklahoma, Georgia, South Carolina, and west Texas) it is not a factor in any of the major breeding areas for monarchs north of 40 N latitude. Thus, at this point, it appears that there is a reasonable prospect for the monarchs to increase over the next two generations leading to a normal migration this fall.


3) Western Monarchs

The following is an email from Adrian Wenner on June 16th concerning the potential impact of a recent fire in southern California on a monarch overwintering area.

Gaviota Wildfire

Last week the "Gaviota Wildfire" swept through about 7500 acres in that region, including both sides of the freeway in the Gaviota area. That area included the Gaviota oil and gas processing facility on the north side of the freeway and the Shell Oil Company property on the south side of the freeway.

That set of sites has consistently been the locality of the finest set of monarch aggregation sites on our area's "South Coast," surpassing by far the famed Ellwood site. I drove to that area a couple of days ago to assess the potential damage with respect to the forthcoming monarch aggregation season.

Although the fire swept through both areas, large trees are still standing and still have their leaves -- although now turned brown. It is too early to tell whether the trees will die from the intense heat -- or whether the property owners will fell those trees. The Santa Barbara County ordinance prohibits felling any trees, but such a rule may not apply once a wildfire has swept through an area.

Should those groves remain intact, even without leaves, they could still function as aggregation sites this coming fall. I will pursue that question with Santa Barbara County officials in coming weeks.

Ironically, we have those who would insist that not a branch be disturbed in an aggregation site and then have a wildfire race through and undo a century of provision for a suitable habitat.

Adrian M. Wenner
Santa Barbara, CA


4) Recoveries for the 2003 Tagging Season

The deaths of millions of monarchs following each of the two severe winter storms last January resulted in an unprecedented recovery of monarchs tagged the previous fall. The total number of tagged butterflies recovered exceeds 2700, or about 2% of the butterflies tagged in 2003. The problems associated with collating such a massive data set from the data sheets submitted by participants has forced us to adopt a new approach to the recovery of the information associated with each tag. Students were hired to enter the essential information from all data sheets into a massive database of roughly 100,000 entries for 2003. This task was recently completed and now we are in the process of developing a recovery database to match up each recovery with the appropriate tagger. We will post the complete records for last year’s recoveries online when they are available.

One of the reasons for developing this database is that we anticipate even more recoveries of tags from 2003 in the coming seasons. As we left El Rosario last winter, having spent all the money for tags that we could afford, it was apparent that the residents had as many as 2000 additional tags in their possession. Although this more technical approach to recovery of the tagging data is costing us time and money to develop it, in the long run it will be a much more efficient system. We will also be able to make all of the recoveries (all years) available online in a searchable database.

In the meantime, we have posted a list of the codes for 2352 of the 2700 recoveries from last season online at

The list also includes numerous tags from previous seasons that were purchased last year. The tags are organized alphanumerically and for each colony site from which they were obtained.

We will continue to process the recoveries and will send certificates out as soon as possible. Keep in mind that we have to contact anyone who has not returned their datasheets to complete a tag recovery record, so if you forgot to turn in your datasheets please send them to us immediately to prevent further delay.

Thanks for your help!

Be sure to check those lists as they are updated! Karyl McLean’s Topics in Biology classes at Fredonia High School in New York searched the tag list online and found that they had not one but eight recoveries from last fall (a new school record). They recently celebrated their recoveries and had a special cake made to commemorate the occasion:

Yum! ;-)


5) Monarch Watch Tagging Kits and Rearing Kits

It is that time of year again - time to place your orders for Monarch Watch Tagging Kits and Rearing Kits for the upcoming fall season! Please submit your orders as soon as possible to ensure that you receive your kits in a timely manner. The tags for the 2004 season have been ordered and we will begin shipping them out by August 1st, in plenty of time for the fall migration. Each year we run out of tags so be sure not to miss out!

The Monarch Watch Fall 2004 Tagging Kit includes 25 tags and instructions for $25; additional 25-tag sheets are available for $4 each.

As you probably know, Monarch Rearing Kits are available for those of you that want to raise monarchs at home or in the classroom. Each kit contains 14-16 young larvae and rearing instructions. Through June 30, 2004 the price of a single Rearing Kit will remain at $34, which includes overnight shipping and handling charges. Effective July 1, 2004 the pricing structure for Rearing Kits will change somewhat to more accurately reflect the costs involved - individual Rearing Kits will be available for $16 each with a shipping and handling charge of $23 for up to four kits. While the cost of individual kits will increase slightly, new shipping methods will allow us to send up to four kits in a single box, thereby reducing the cost of multiple kits considerably:

1 Kit: was $34; now $39
2 Kits: were $68; now $55
3 Kits: were $102; now $71
4 Kits: were $136; now $87

Please help us ensure we meet your needs (and take advantage of the lower single Rearing Kit price until June 30th) by ordering your kits and other materials as soon as possible. Visit our online storefront at

or download a condensed order form at

Monarch Watch is a small educational outreach program here at the University of Kansas. Small in size (managed by only 3 full-time staff members) but large in scope - we estimate that over 100,000 people all over the country and around the world are involved with Monarch Watch each year. Our goals are to further science education (particularly in primary and secondary school systems), to promote the conservation of Monarch butterflies, and to involve thousands of students and adults in a cooperative study of the Monarchs' spectacular fall migration. Additionally, we endeavor to provide an enjoyable, interactive, and educational experience for all participants in our program.

Your participation and support for Monarch Watch allows us to continue to provide up-to-date information on the status of the monarch population, news about monarchs, coverage of conservation issues and the newest research on monarchs on our website. Each month this Email Update (or "eNewsletter") with current information is sent to over 8,000 people across the globe. You can read previous Updates or sign up to receive them each month by visiting

Thank you for your continued support!


6) Season Summaries – by Chip Taylor

After agonizing deliberations, we have decided to discontinue the Season Summaries in their current form. For a variety of reasons, we have become seriously behind in publishing these journals and, given our present commitments, the prospects for catching up are slim. There are also other issues. Much of my creative energy and available time is now going into these monthly updates. If you have been following the updates, you may have noticed that they have become more comprehensive, timely, and hopefully informative as the months have passed. Indeed, many of the texts are the same as those written for the Season Summaries. I have a backlog of texts intended for use in Season Summaries and these will be incorporated into these updates in coming months.

It is also the case that I’ve been disappointed in the response to these annual reports. Each issue required a tremendous effort and the costs of production were quite high. Our intention for producing these journals was to inform our readers and to stimulate more involvement by teachers, students and others in monarch biology. The low feedback we received from these efforts was discouraging and I’ve questioned whether this format was adequately fulfilling my objectives for communicating with our constituency. The updates seem to be much more effective in this regard. The Season Summaries only reached 1,500-2,000 members each year.

These updates are distributed to over 8,000 subscribers worldwide and are read by many others online each month. The information in the updates is more timely than the articles in the Season Summaries and the feedback has been positive and helpful. We have therefore decided that we can better serve all of the Monarch Watchers out there by devoting more time to these updates, concentrating on the conservation issues in Mexico, and updating the website, which is now in the early stages of a major overhaul.

I realize some of you will be disappointed in this development but we just had to confront our limitations. For those of you who were 2002 and 2003 members of Monarch Watch (and/or have already preordered for 2004) we are offering an optional storefront credit of $5 for each Season Summary.

If you would like to take advantage of this offer please send an email to with "Season Summary" in the subject line and the name of the membership/order in the body of the message (please list the years as well). If you would like us to use this "credit" in support of Monarch Watch instead, no action is necessary on your part.

Thank you for your understanding!


7) Effects of Transgenic Crops on Milkweeds – by Chip Taylor

How do transgenic crops affect the distribution and abundance of milkweeds?

In the 2001 Monarch Watch Season Summary (p59) I addressed the possibility that the widespread planting of Roundup Ready corn and soybeans could lead to the decline of the common milkweeds in much of the northern breeding area for monarchs:

"Almost unnoticed in this controversy has been the rapid adoption of herbicide resistant (transgenic) corn and soybeans by farmers throughout the Midwest. These crops are extolled for their value in weed control. Growers can plant these crops and then apply herbicides (principally Roundup) to control weeds without concern that the corn will be stunted or killed by the toxin. Cost of weed control is reduced but the potential downside for monarchs is the loss of milkweeds in these fields. One of the outcomes of the Bt corn study was the realization that 90% of the monarchs originate in the agricultural landscape (Taylor and Shields 2000). Further, the studies of habitat use by monarchs showed that although milkweed densities were low in row crops such as corn and soybeans, survival of monarchs in these habitats appeared to be higher than in non-crop areas. Thus, the milkweeds in corn and soybeans are important and their loss due to the adoption of herbicide resistant corn and soybeans could have an impact on the size of the monarch population. Studies of the distribution and abundance of milkweed in GMO and non-GMO crops lands are still needed.

The GMO technologies are here to stay and so are the controversies. The negative consequences associated with these crop varieties are potentially significant and it is unclear whether such effects can be anticipated or controlled."

To my knowledge, no one has taken up the challenge of assessing the impact of transgenic corn and soybeans on the abundance of milkweeds.

My motivation for revisiting this topic was the following email from a grain farmer in Nebraska.


I am a grain farmer in Northeast Nebraska. I recently, purely by accident, came across your website. I was struck by the information that the common milkweed is the ONLY food of the Monarch larva.

I am concerned that the recent large use of Roundup ready crops (which I use), and the subsequent widespread use of Roundup herbicide (which I also use), had led to the virtual elimination of milkweed in fields and crops. As someone who has raised crops, I can personally attest to scarcity of the milkweed plant today compared to, for example, 20 years ago. Milkweed used to be a common weed in this part of Nebraska. Roundup is particularly effective in eliminating milkweed, since it works on the rootstock of milkweed.

Although I have always considered milkweed a rather troublesome "weed", and have appreciated how modern herbicides have controlled it, I am concerned about the effect this might have on the monarch butterfly population. I consider the monarch a very beautiful insect, and have noticed that they appear to be scarcer than in years past.

Is there some advice I can get, as a grain farmer with economic considerations, to balance both my needs and that of the monarch? Has anyone ever done any research on this? I appreciate any advice you may have to give me.

Thank you.

David A. Wurdeman
Leigh, Nebraska

I have two reactions to this inquiry. First, growers should carefully examine the short term and long-term pluses and minuses associated with the use of Roundup and second we need to establish what can be done to restore milkweeds under a variety of conditions.

Living in Kansas (and knowing a number of farmers) I know that making a living at farming is difficult and often impossible. Were I a farmer, I would probably be using Roundup Ready corn and soybeans but then again, I might follow the lead of several local farmers who are not using GMO seed lines. As an outsider to this enterprise I can sit back and wonder if the long-term costs of the utilization of this GMO technology and herbicide combination is going to offset the shot term gains that have induced the majority of growers to adopt this system. What are these long-term costs? The most prominent issue is the evolution of herbicide resistant weeds. If you do a web search for herbicide/Roundup resistant weeds you will find a substantial number of references on this topic. In Argentina, an area with a temperate climate, at least 15 weed species have shown resistance to Roundup, including the common bindweed (Convulvulus arvensis) and dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), both abundant in North America

An argument offered by Monsanto is that such resistance is local and can be dealt with on a local basis because most weeds don’t spread that fast. While this might be true for some species, it probably doesn’t apply to these two and this interpretation underestimates how weeds are distributed on farm equipment. These are weeds we are talking about and they do get around the world. The similarity of the species composition of the crop field weeds in both the north and south temperate regions of the world is astounding. A further perusal of web sites on this topic reveals that experts suggest not using Roundup more than once a year on a field, a practice that is frequently violated, and that it should not be used in the same field for more than two years in a row. Again, this is a practice that is often ignored. Roundup resistant weeds seem to be in our future and no other "benign" herbicides seem to be on the horizon.

Soil quality is another issue. The long-term impact of the use of Roundup on soil quality is not yet clear. In the short run, the use of Roundup appears to be beneficial by reducing tillage, erosion, and carbon loss through carbon dioxide. However, there are concerns that the long-term effect of Roundup will be to reduce the number of soil microbes needed to either breakdown organic matter or to promote plant growth (mycorrhizal fungi). One also has to ask the question whether, at some level, weeds are beneficial. Although we all learn that weeds reduce crop production, and there are certainly plenty of studies to show this, low level contamination with weeds, if tilled under at some point, provide green manure and maintain texture and contribute to the organic matter in the soils. In the long run, a few weeds may be better for soil conservation than Roundup. Whatever the case, the practices adopted by most growers will be driven by short-term economics or perceived benefits rather than long-term considerations.

Cost of production is another factor to consider. If I were a farmer, I would want to know at least three things about a new seed line, performance (yield), cost of production (field preparation, seed cost, per-harvest inputs such as herbicides, and harvest issues such as lodging) and convenience/time -inputs. The performance data for conventional and transgenic soybeans available on several web sites indicate that yields per acre are similar for both types.

The differences, if there are any, are too small to justify adoption of the herbicide resistant lines. Cost of production may be an issue. These costs seem to vary sharply among locations and I haven’t been able to locate data from independent investigators on this point. Seed cost is higher for GMOs, but is coming down and may be offset by lower inputs. My guess is that much of the adoption of GMOs comes down to convenience and time. Spraying with Roundup requires less time, equipment, and equipment maintenance, and lower fuel costs than tillage, leaving more time for other tasks. This would probably make a difference to me. I’d tell myself I’d have more time for fishing but then I’d spend my Sundays writing these updates ;-)

When I took ecology in graduate school 40 years ago, we learned that an average of 5,000 acres of "habitat" was lost to development each day. I was astounded by this figure but it made sense as I began to track the developments taking place in areas I knew well. The rate of loss is probably even greater today. Many species are declining due to a progressive loss of habitat and those species confined to special habitats, that are limited geographically, constitute a high proportion of the threatened and endangered species in this country. Monarchs are unique in that they are one of a relatively small group of insect species that breed in a large portion of the North American continent. Much of this breeding capacity is due to the ability of the common milkweed to invade disturbed areas, such as roadsides, railroad right of ways, power-line and gas-line cuts, pastures, and croplands. This plant is essential for the development of monarch larvae and the distribution and abundance of this single milkweed species, even though monarchs utilize 30 or more species of milkweeds over their entire range, accounts for about 90% of the butterflies that join the fall migration each year. An analysis of the distribution of milkweed containing habitats conducted at the time of the concerns about the impact of Bt corn on monarchs suggested that the majority of monarchs, perhaps 90%, originated from areas with intensive agriculture. This observation, together with formal and informal surveys of milkweeds in conventional corn and soybeans, lead to my concern that the rapid adoption of Roundup Ready corn and soybeans could eliminate much of the milkweed in the most productive breeding habitat for monarchs.

I’ve never been impressed by common milkweed as a competitor in crop situations. Although there are claims that the presence of milkweed depresses crop yields, and this may be true in the Red River Valley in Minnesota and Ontario and a few other situations, the densities of the common milkweed are usually too low (20-60 stems per acre) to be of much significance in this regard. Nevertheless, milkweed at these densities is of great value to monarchs. Larvae reared on milkweeds within fields appear to survive at a higher rate than in the field margins and roadsides perhaps due to the lower abundance of predators in these habitats.

Even if we are unable to persuade growers that it is in their interests to adopt non-Roundup Ready crops, to tolerate milkweed or to utilize management practices that are more milkweed friendly, we still need to find ways for growers to restore milkweeds in their field margins, roadsides, conservation set aside lands and wetlands. Here is a preliminary list of the some of the practices that could be adopted:

1) seed marginal lands, fallow lands, or set aside areas with common milkweed and butterfly weed (A. syriaca and A. tuberosa);

2) seed low areas and true wetlands with both common and swamp milkweeds (A. syriaca and A. incarnata);

3) grow milkweeds in gardens- if not common milkweeds because of a prejudice due to their reputation as weeds, then other milkweed species, such as the swamp milkweed, butterfly weed and tropical milkweed;

4) urge local (county) road crews to cut road margins once a year, either in late June or preferably toward the end of the season after the milkweed plants have seeded;

Milkweeds can be established by scattering seeds over areas that have been mowed and lightly disked or tilled as early in the spring as possible. To minimize competition with other species that will invade the seeded area, the sown area should be mowed close to the ground the next spring before growth starts. This practice will favor grasses and milkweeds and will minimize competition for light and nutrients.


8) New Book on Monarchs

Papers (27) presented at the Monarch Population Dynamics Conference hosted by Monarch Watch in collaboration with Monarchs in the Classroom in Lawrence, Kansas in 2001 have been assembled into an excellent book. Thanks to the extraordinary efforts and editorial talents of Karen Oberhauser and Michelle Solensky the diverse subject matter delivered at the conference has been organized and presented in the book in a highly readable fashion. The following text is a brief description of the book provided by the publisher, Cornell University Press.

The Monarch Butterfly:
Biology and Conservation
Edited by Karen S. Oberhauser and Michelle J. Solensky

The knowledge of citizen scientists, biologists, and naturalists informs this book's coverage of every aspect of the monarch butterfly's life cycle (breeding, migration, and overwintering) from the perspective of every established monarch population (western North American, eastern North American, and Australian). In addition to presenting the most recent basic research on this species, The Monarch Butterfly contains the first publication of data compiled from two established citizen science projects, Journey North and the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project. It also reports for the first time on two major events of long-term importance to monarch conservation and biology: the creation of a larger protected area in the Mexican overwintering sites and a weather-related mortality event during the winter of 2002.

Monarch butterflies are arguably the most recognized, studied, and loved of all insects, and the attention that scientists and the general public have paid to this species has increased both our understanding of the natural world and our concern about preserving it. The unique combination of basic research, background information, and conservation applications makes this book a valuable resource for ecologists, entomologists, naturalists, and teachers.

Karen S. Oberhauser is an Assistant Professor and Michelle J. Solensky a Research Associate in the Department of Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation at the University of Minnesota, where they study monarch biology.

A Comstock Book
Published by Cornell University Press
May 2004, 256 pages, 64 tables, 122 charts/maps/line drawings, 4 halftones
Cloth ISBN 0-8014-4188-9 $39.95

This book will be available via our online store soon; in the meantime, you can get the book at Amazon by following this link:


9) Monarch Watch Open House and Plant Fundraiser

The Monarch Watch Spring Open House on Saturday the 15th of May was a huge success. We estimate that 400-500 people came through our doors, including lots of families with children - 30 dozen "gourmet" cookies vanished within a few hours! The honey bee observation hive was a big hit (especially since we had a video camera trained on the hive showing the queen and her attendants full-screen on a TV) and the kids enjoyed our "butterfly vivarium" in the greenhouse. We also introduced many visitors to iChat AV, a videoconferencing technology we are using to connect with classrooms all around the country ( It was a very busy day! We ended up distributing about 1800 plants and raised a little money for Monarch Watch. You can check out some photos of the event online at

We hope to have another Open House in the fall so stay tuned and make plans to join us!


10) Upcoming Events

June 26-27, 2004 - Arkansas

Mount Magazine Butterfly Festival, near Paris, Arkansas
9AM-4PM, 26-27 June 2004
Mt Magazine State Park

- Mt. Magazine Images
- Monarch Biology and Migration (Chip Taylor)
- Diana, Showcase Butterfly
- So you want to be a "Bugologist"
- Mt. Magazine Butterflies
- Photography Workshop
- Garden Tours and Nature Walks


June 27, 2004 - New York City

Monarcas: Butterflies Without Borders
Dana Center, Central Park at 110thSt (5th Avenue and Lennox)
Sunday, June 27, 2004 2-6PM

A family event dedicated to the culture of Michoacán, Mexico and the preservation of the Monarch butterfly and its habitat.

- Dance, stories and songs of the P’urepecha Indians.
- Mexican cooking and crafts from Michoacán.
- Butterfly exhibit and ecological roundtable.
- Nature Walk with the Urban Park Rangers.
- Healthy lifestyle information for Latino families.
- Concert in collaboration with the Harlem Meer Performance Festival.


11) About Our Update List

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Have you somehow missed (or misplaced ;-) an update? Now you can find all of the updates archived online at

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to join our new Monarch-Watch-Update email list - it's easy!

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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