Monarch Watch Update - January 14, 2005



1) Status of the Population

2) Tag Recovery Fund

3) New Tagging Kits

4) News from Mexico

5) Teaching with Monarchs

6) Western Monarchs

7) MBSF Fundraising and Projects

8) About Our Update List


Unless otherwise noted, all content was authored by Chip Taylor, edited by Jim Lovett and Sarah Schmidt, and published by Jim Lovett.


1) Status of the Population

The latest word from Mexico is that the overwintering monarch colonies are still being measured. The preliminary indications are that the population is relatively small compared to the long-term average of about 9 hectares (all colonies combined). The colony at Chincua, in particular, is much smaller than normal. At El Rosario the colony is evidently substantially larger than the one at Chincua but its location on a steep slope makes it difficult for observers to declare whether it appears to be larger or smaller than normal. El Rosario usually contains the largest monarch colony, one that ranges from 1.2 in low years (2000) to nearly 8 hectares (1996-1997).

On a recent trip to Mexico, Karen Oberhasuer and her students examined the conditions of the butterflies in clusters and on flowers. The butterflies visiting flowers were found to be low in mass and downright “skinny” indicating that they had little or no fatbody (lipid reserves). Since monarchs metabolize the lipids in the fatbody through the winter for energy, it is likely that butterflies without sufficient reserves have a low probability of surviving the winter. When I visited El Rosario on the 14th of November 1997, the monarchs were just beginning to cluster. I was impressed by the range in the condition of the wings and abdomens of the butterflies. The wings ranged from near perfect, albeit with a few scratches if you looked closely, to tattered, worn, and broken – but not faded. None of the butterflies had the faded appearance (often due to scale loss) of old reproductive butterflies. These butterflies had evidently all been in reproductive diapause yet their abdomens ranged from collapsed and skinny in appearance to plump. I remember being surprised at the variability in the appearance of the abdomens since I had the impression from the literature, and from observation, that monarchs fed enough en route to the colonies to build up a substantial fatbody in preparation for winter. Evidently this was not the case for many of these newly arrived migrants. The reasons for such variation aren’t clear, and I should review all the literature before I say more, but we do know from David Gibo’s studies that late emerging monarchs do not have well developed fatbodies and seem ill prepared for both the migration and overwintering.


2) Tag Recovery Fund

If you have been following the tagging and the recoveries for more than just this season, you know that Monarch Watch is faced with a major problem - namely the recovery of the massive number of tags found at El Rosario after the two winter storms that devastated the monarch population at this site last January. A more complete accounting to the tags remaining to be recovered can be found at

The task ahead is rather daunting both from a financial and logistical standpoint. To deal with the financial issues we are applying for funds to help cover the costs of the tags and we will be reducing our expenditures in several areas to free up funds so they can be used to purchase tags. However, even if our fundraising efforts are successful, it is unlikely that we will obtain sufficient funding to cover all the tags. So we once again need your help with the Tag Recovery Fund. Your contributions are fully tax deductible and can be sent to us at

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

Please note that many employers offer a matching gift program which will effectively double your contribution. Such gifts to Monarch Watch are processed by the University of Kansas Endowment Association, an organization that manages several funds here at the University. Ask around at work for details and if you need assistance with this please contact us.

Your help will certainly be appreciated. Please keep in mind that money for the tags goes directly to the residents (ejido members) of El Rosario, who are the stewards of the forest and the monarch colony. Our program benefits from these contributions through the recovery of the tags and the data they represent and our taggers benefit by learning that their recovered tags have contributed additional information about the biology of monarchs. Because of the need to reduce expenditures, our trip to Mexico this winter will be quite short and this creates a logistical problem for the recovery of tags since it will be difficult to meet with all of the guides and residents who have tags. Therefore, if you are planning a trip to the El Rosario and/or Chincua sites this winter, you could help by purchasing tags - any number. We will be happy to reimburse all travelers for their tags but we must receive the tags before we can pay for them; a list of the tag codes is not sufficient. There are several reasons for this: 1) we end up paying for tags twice if we only receive the number from tags that are still held by residents; 2) we have had problems with counterfeit tags and we need to inspect each tag to be sure that it is legitimate; and 3) because the font on the tags is small, the codes need to be confirmed by us to be sure they are correct.

The going price for tags is 50 pesos - PLEASE DO NOT PAY MORE UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES. We simply can't afford to pay more than 50 pesos per tag.

The database records for all tags recovered last year are nearing completion and will be available soon.


3) New Tagging Kits

We are pleased to announce new Tagging Kits for the 2005 Monarch Migration season this fall. We have reduced the price of the Standard Tagging Kit by 40% and added a Mini Tagging Kit option that is designed for those who would like to distribute a small number of tags to several monarch taggers (via Nature Centers, Schools, Zoos, etc.).

The Monarch Watch Standard Tagging Kit includes a set of monarch butterfly tags (you specify quantity), a datasheet, tagging instructions, and additional monarch/migration information.

The Monarch Watch Mini Tagging Kit includes a set of five (5) monarch butterfly tags, a datasheet, tagging instructions, additional monarch/migration information, and a Monarch Watch Shop coupon - all together in a self-addressed envelope (used to return the datasheet to Monarch Watch).

More details will be online within a few days so be sure to visit the Monarch Watch Shop to place your order early.

As usual, we encourage you to order well in advance - the limited number of tags are distributed on a first come, first served basis and we run out of tags almost every year. We will begin shipping out the tags by the first week of August - in plenty of time for the start of the monarch migration in your area.

If you have any questions about this please feel free to contact us anytime and/or stay tuned to our website for updates.


4) News from Mexico - by Mike Quinn, Texas Parks and Wildlife, Austin, Texas

On the morning of December 9th, Rebecca Callahan, of USFWS, and myself were in Don Bruno Hotel in Angangueo, Michoacan, planning our last full day in Mexico. We were rapping up our assigned USF&WS task, namely a "Monitoring and Evaluation" of ALTERNARE, a non-profit organization working with local farmers and indigenous peoples living near the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve to improve their self-sufficiency.

That morning, Guadalupe Del Rio Pesado (Lupita), Director for ALTERNARE, informed us that the Lázaro Cárdenas Batel, the Governor of Michoacan, was coming to speak up the road at Sierra Chincua Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary at 1230. The original plan was to head back to Mexico City that morning and visit the world famous Museum of Anthropology in the afternoon, but Becky and I quickly agreed that we would rather hear the Governor. Noting that the Governor wasn't to speak until 12:30, I asked Lupita if it would be possible to squeeze in an impromptu trip to El Rosario Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary that morning?! We quickly finished breakfast, prepped our gear, hailed a truck, and headed up the mountain, but that's another story.

According to my notes, we arrived at Sierra Chincua Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary at 12:54. There we found a black translucent tarp strung high over about 400 chairs. Under the "big top" it was something of a circus atmosphere with men sitting on idle horses near a helicopter on the ground with two more circling over head, a woman dressed from head to toe in black leotards had giant Monarch wings attached to her back, a group of firefighters were wearing bright yellow flame resistant shirts, large outdoor speakers were set on polls at the corners of the tarp pointing inwards at the growing audience which was a sea of cowboy hats. The air was electric.

Lupita's plan was to get there before the Governor in order to get a spiral bound book on ALTERNARE's activities into his hands before everyone surrounded him. In telling us of her plan, she made a gesture with her leg, sticking it out as if to trip someone. We were successful so far, then people turned their heads. The Governor was just making his way across the field to our right with a small group of people. Lupita sprang into action. She got her materials into his hands and he acknowledged that his wife had visited ALTERNARE's facilities and that he needed to come too!

People in attendance from the surrounding communities of Cerro Prieto, El Rosario, and Los Remedios all began to take their chairs as the Governor and other dignitaries took to the stage, above which stood a sign reading "Actions and Perspectives in the Monarch Region" in Spanish. Joining the Governor was on stage was the former Municipal President of Angangueo, Jorge Martín Arizmendi and the President of Alliance de Ejidos & Communities of the MBBR, Dario García de la Paz.

Mexican environmental officials included the new Director of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Preserve (MBBR), Eduardo Ramirez Alvarado; Director of the Environmental Attorney General's Office (PROFEPA), José Luis Luege Tamargo; the Michoacan Delegate of PROFEPA, Francisco Luna Contreras; the Secretary of the Environment (SEMARNAT), Alberto Cárdenas Jiménez; and the President of National Commission for Protected Areas (CONANP), Dr. Ernesto Enkerlin Hoeflich.

In the Governor's speech, he said that he wanted to help the people of Michoacan first and also to protect the natural resources. His vision for accomplishing both tasks was to employ more people in conservation services such as reforestation efforts. The Director of PROFEPA, in addressing the immediate problem of illegal logging, noted the increased number of police stationed throughout the area. According to the Director, the police are ready to respond to an incident of illegal logging within an hour 24 hours a day.

After the speeches, Lupita went up to the PROFEPA delegate from Michoacan to ask him the lack of a timely response to an illegal logging incident near Ocampo yesterday. Lupita also wanted to talk about the disposition of the logs and trucks that the municipal and federal police found when they eventually arrived at the logging site. They had a very animated discussion! After which, I introduced Lupita to Ernesto Enkerlin, President of CONANP. I have known Ernesto from our time as students together at Texas A&M University.

After all the groups broke up, we got on the road again and headed for Mexico City. We reached the outskirts of the city as the sun was setting.

For numerous colorful images of the meeting see


5) Teaching with Monarchs


At the inception of Monarch Watch we recognized the great potential of this charismatic insect for the teaching of science in primary and secondary schools. In fact, I often boasted that we could get teachers to use monarchs to teach anything from the basic sciences to the arts. And indeed, many teachers have used monarchs to instruct their students in various aspects of the sciences, literature, and the arts. Yet, it appears to me that we have only scratched the surface and that there is much more we can do with monarchs to open up the minds of our students and to get them to appreciate the interconnectedness of life.

Accordingly, I have set myself to the task of creating occasional texts for these Updates that will allow teachers to use monarchs to introduce students to a variety of topics. These texts will be written to illustrate the process of resolving scientific questions rather than as lesson plans designed to deliver specific bits of knowledge that students can repeat on demand. I will try to incorporate the spirit and challenge of open-ended inquiry in these texts and I think you will see that the bits of knowledge we want our students to acquire will fall into place. Those of you teaching to standards know the standards well and will be able to see how to justify nudging your students to follow the leads presented in these articles. While I will provide some leads to get the inquiry started, many issues will be incompletely resolved and will require more research by students working together or individually. With a bit of imagination and attention to the standards for any particular grade level, teachers should be able to scale the level of inquiry to all grade levels from 4-12. Those of you who are uncomfortable with this type of open-ended inquiry should be able to find well defined lesson plans with specific objectives listed among the references at the end of the article.

Instilling patterns of life long learning in our students should be one of our goals and it is my hope that the introduction of these topics to students will allow a few of them to make connections with subjects that will not only broaden their knowledge but will lead them to pursue these interests for personal, academic, or professional reasons. When we started the program that became Monarch Watch in September 1992, the internet was just beginning and it wasn’t clear what it would become. The internet is now many things and one of those things is the world’s library, a reference source of unimaginable depth, breadth, complexity, and value. It is an extraordinary instrument for self-instruction and it provides an opportunity for educators to show students that the knowledge of the world is at their fingertips.


This month's installment deals with Monarchs, Cold Summers, Jet Streams, Volcanoes, and More

Please note that the complete article is curently presented as a single 500K page so it may take just a bit to load (it's worth it though!).


6) Western Monarchs - by Mia Monroe

New Year Brings Great News!

The Trust for Public Lands announced on 1/3/05 that the fundraising goal of $20.4 million had finally been reached to save Ellwood Mesa near Santa Barbara. An anonymous donation for the remaining amount, $307,000, was received from a community member. Plans are underway to proceed with the acquisition and other details.

The Ellwood Main Blue Gum Eucalyptus grove survived the January 2005 rain storms. The Monarchs, an estimated 23,000, used the first sunny day to bask and dry out in the tree tops and surrounding grassy areas. For every wind and rain protected portion of the grove there are open airy places for our winged friends to survive the weather. Ellwood Main is located on and in a north/south drainage ravine between a creek and a bluff top mesa next to the Pacific Ocean.

The south-eastern Santa Barbara area has over 12,000 monarchs at various sites.

Breaking News Concerning Ellwood Mesa

The California Coastal Commission APPROVED the land swap/development swap for Ellwood Mesa. The Ellwood complex of Monarch overwintering sites and adjoining land will now be part of a Goleta city park with all housing development away from the grove & mesa. A management plan for this unique biological resource is the next step in the process. David Lange

Monarch Festival This Saturday

In Ventura County, monarch enthusiasts will brave the storms and celebrate their monarchs this Saturday (15 January). Organizer Nan Merrick reports that monarchs are still there in good numbers at the main sites despite intense storms and trees in the groves recently falling. Loma Vista 4-H Roots & Shoots Project is hosting the 2nd Annual Monarch Festival at Camino Real Park in Ventura. The event is scheduled for 11:30 am to 3:00 pm. Please visit their website for more information:

Monarch Sanctuary Closed

Recent storms damaged two more trees in Pacific Grove's Monarch Sanctuary. The City had reopened a small portion of the Sanctuary to the public recently after the late November tragedy (a death due to a falling portion of a tree) but again closed it indefinitely for public safety. The monarch monitoring team reports that although storms have scattered the monarchs, good-sized clusters are still at the Sanctuary and nearby Washington Park. Ventana Wilderness Society biologist Jessica Griffiths also reports that "in Monterey County numbers are lower than last year at this time but two of eight overwintering sites have much higher numbers than previous years." She also reports that the southern two sites in her monitoring area are inaccessible at this time due to slides on Highway One!

Northern Counts

Dave and Julie West, David Kourik report small clusters persisting at this year's northern most overwintering site in Bodega with more probably there but out enjoying a bit of sun. Mia Monroe also found dense, large clusters at the main sites in Bolinas and Stinson Beach on New Year's Day.

Western Monarch Day

February 5 has been declared Western Monarch Day! Time to start planning your celebration by visiting a monarch overwintering site, sowing milkweed seed, doing some reading about monarchs, and supporting monarch conservation. For more information on this declaration see

Monarch Symposium March 1-2 at Alisomar

A monarch symposium will be held in conjunction with the annual meeting of the Pacific Branch of the Entomological Society of America on 1-2 March at the Alisomar Conference Grounds at Pacific Grove, California on the Monterrey Peninsula. This conference has been organized by Dr David G. James of the Department of Entomology, Washington State University. Before coming to the United States, David conducted research on the overwintering biology and migration of monarch butterflies in Australia. The symposium will be held from 8-12AM on 2 March. A welcoming and Outreach event, including music presented with monarchs in mind, will be held on the evening of 1 March. For additional information concerning this meeting see

Speakers/Provisional Titles for the Symposium "Biology and Conservation of the Monarch Butterfly" (as at 14 December 2004)

1. Robert M. Pyle, Grays River, Washington. "Chasing Western Monarchs: New Views on Migration Routes” (25 min)

2. Dennis Frey, Biological Sciences Department, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, California. "Monarch Butterfly Population Dynamics in Western North America" (25 min)

3. Kingston Leong, Biological Sciences Department, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, California. "Development of Protocols for Long Term Habitat Management of Overwintering Monarch Butterfly Sites in California" (25 min)

4. Shawna Stevens, Biological Sciences Department, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, California. "Determining Natal Grounds of Overwintering Monarch Butterflies in California" (15 min)

5. Nelli Thorngate and Jessica Griffiths, Big Sur Ornithology Laboratory, Ventana Wilderness Society, Monterey, California. "Patterns of habitat use by overwintering Monarch butterflies in Monterey County, California" (15 min)

6. Orley R. 'Chip' Taylor, Monarch Watch, Entomology Program, University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas. "Migration of the Eastern Monarch Population" (25 min)

7. Andrew K. Davis, Department of Environmental Studies, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. "New Perspectives on Migration in Monarch Butterflies: Insights from Long-term Monitoring and Citizen Science" (15 min)

8. Lincoln P. Brower, Department of Biology, Sweet Briar College, Sweet Briar, Virginia. “Failures and successes in conserving the overwintering phenomenon of the monarch butterfly in Mexico: 1975-2005" (25 min)

9. Dan Slayback, Science Systems and Applications, Inc. Biospheric Sciences Branch, Code 923, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Greenbelt, MD 20771 “A remote-sensing overview of forest cover change in the monarch overwintering region in Mexico" (15 min)

10. Stuart Weiss, Creekside Center for Earth Observations, Menlo Park, California. "Quantitative Assessment of Canopy Structure for Conservation of Monarch Butterfly Overwintering Habitats" (15min)

11. Sonia M. Altizer, Department of Environmental Studies, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. "Monarch Butterflies in Changing Environments: Parasites, Migration and Phenotypic Variation" (15 min)

12. Karen S. Oberhauser, Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology, University of Minnesota, St Paul, Minnesota. "The Monarch Larva Monitoring Project: Citizens and Scientists Unraveling Monarch Mysteries" (15 min)

Potential Speakers for Outreach Evening

Ro Vaccaro, Friends of the Monarchs, Pacific Grove.
“The History, Politics and Biology of Monarchs at Pacific Grove”.

Mia Monroe, Xerces Society/Muir Woods National Monument, California. “Conservation of Western Monarchs”


7) MBSF Fundraising and Projects - by Karen Oberhauser

The Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary Foundation (MBSF) is dedicated to providing financial and scientific support for preserving the natural balance and diversity of the oyamel fir forests that are the overwintering grounds of eastern North American monarch butterflies. All donations to MBSF are tax-exempt. To make a donation, send checks made out to MBSF to

Karen Oberhauser
2078 Skillman Ave. W.
Roseville MN 55113

If you are giving a talk or presentation about monarchs, and would like to distribute MBSF brochures, please contact Karen at

MBSF Projects 2005

The projects that we plan to support this year are summarized below.

Alternare: Alternare is a Mexican non-profit organization that works in close partnership with campesinos in the monarch wintering areas to promote sustainable and adequate food production, forest conservation, and environmentally sound economic activities. They have almost completed a center just outside of Angangeuo, where they conduct training sessions for campesino instructors. These instructors work with Alternare personnel in subsequent sessions in the communities and ejidos. For more information on Alternare, visit their website at, or see pictures from Mike Quinn’s recent visit to an Alternare training session at

MBSF has supported Alternare’s efforts for the past five years, providing a total of $14,400. We hope to increase our support to at least $5000 in 2005.

Research Projects: For the past seven years, MBSF has supported a variety of research projects conducted by Mexican students and organizations. All of the projects are focused on topics relevant to monarch and forest conservation. From 1998 through 2001, we provided $26,000 to WWF-Mexico to support their research on the most effective size and configuration of the Monarch Reserve. We have supported Mexican students studying forest regeneration and structure, the effectiveness of direct payment programs to support forest conservation, relationships between local and migratory monarch butterfly populations, and monarch physiology with individual grants and fellowships ranging from $2500 to $3100. In addition, we have worked with NASA and the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) to map monarch colonies and forest conditions using satellite images and GIS technology. All of these grants have two important outcomes; they support important research and also develop research and educational capacity in Mexico. For more information on the research projects grantees have conducted, see our website at

In 2005, MBSF has committed to supporting continued research on relationships between local and migratory monarch populations in Mexico. We have developed a strong collaborative relationship with Dr. Isabel Ramirez of UNAM, and hope to support at least three of her students who are studying the relationship between logging and road presence in the overwintering forests, the microclimatic conditions in overwintering sites, and forest change in colonies that are not part of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve.

Environmental Education:
MBSF has supported several environmental efforts within and around the Monarch Butterfly Reserve. This is fitting, since a large part of our annual donations come from school children in the US who participate in the Journey North symbolic migration (see These projects include MBSF projects and projects being conducted by other groups.

MBSF projects. In collaboration with Monarchs in the Classroom, Journey North, Profauna and the USFWS, we have developed and distributed over 600 Spanish copies of the book The Monarch Butterfly: Uniting a Continent (La mariposa monarca: uniendo un continente) in schools and communities in the Monarch Reserve. Ejido San Mateo, which owns land on which the Herrada colony overwinters, plans to buy these books at our printing cost to sell to tourists, and we hope to form similar agreements with other ejidos and communities. All of the money they use to purchase materials will go directly into future MBSF projects. We have printed our monarch life cycle cards (see in Spanish, and will give them to guides to use in educating tourists about monarch biology. We have almost completed a Spanish companion to our Uniting a Continent book that includes lessons for classrooms, and will distribute these to schools and communities

Biocenosis. MBSF has worked for several years with Eligio Garcia Serrano, who has opened a new office of the Mexican conservation organization Biocenosis: Biocenosis AC Region Monarca. Eligio, along with Betty Solis Suarez and Carole Jordan, are working with schools with land in the Monarch Reserve. They visit schools every day for a week, presenting an entire series of lessons on monarchs; interactions between plants and animals (including humans) and the importance of natural resources to the local communities. They are planning an exposition this spring to showcase their work and the subjects they teach in schools, and will invite teachers, students, school administrators and community members. MBSF hopes to work with Biocenosis to produce a video to use in these lessons, provide additional books for their use in schools, and help to increase their capacity to offer more workshops with an expanded curriculum.

Workshops for Teachers and Guides. MBSF is spearheading a collaborative effort with Biocenosis, Journey North, Monarchs in the Classroom, personnel in the Monarch Reserve and other individuals and organizations to conduct two series of workshops, one for teachers in the Reserve and another for community members who act as guides for tourists. In 2005, we will conduct at least one pilot workshop, and follow-up with all participants.


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