Monarch Watch Update - May 13, 2005



1) Status of the Population

2) Monarch Waystation Program

3) Monarch Watch Spring Open House and Plant Fundraiser

4) 2005 Monarch Tagging Kits

5) New Monarch Poster

6) 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

AIn an attempt to compare the progress of the reestablishment of monarchs in the United States this season, one which follows an all time low overwintering monarch population, with that of previous years, Janis Lentz, a teacher at Weslaco High School in Weslaco, Texas, has compiled the sightings recorded on the Journey North website. Table 1 summarizes sightings from 1 March to 6 May, 2005 with those for comparable periods during the previous five years. Assuming that the number of people willing to submit reports each year is roughly the same, the data seem to suggest that monarchs are off to a poor start, second only to the poor start seen last year. Further, the number and proportion of monarchs reported from states outside of Texas is quite low. While the figures don’t look good, I’m still optimistic. In spite of the lack of sightings during the first week of May, which can be attributed to the unusually cold weather in the midwest, I still feel that there is a good chance that a substantial number of first generation monarchs will move north out of Texas over the next four weeks. First generation monarchs often reach central Iowa by 10 May and southern Minnesota in the third week of May. However, even if the first generation arrives 7-10 days late in the northern states, as long as conditions are favorable the prospects for the development of a substantial fall migratory population are still good.

Table 1. Number of monarchs sightings recorded by Journey North from 1 March to 6 May in 2000-2005*.


March 1-24

March 25-31

April 1-16

April 17-30 May 1-6


Non-Tx (%)


31 (1)

42 (8)

67 (37)

23 (23)

0 (0)

163 (69)



34 (8)

35 (1)

27 (15)

37 (33)

14 (14)

147 (71)



73 (4)

39 (17)

48 (42)

35 (35)

17 (16)

212 (114)



133 (8)

50 (21)

36 (32)

35 (34)

10 (10)

264 (105)



60 (4)

18 (1)

70 (46)

29 (27)

34 (32)

211 (110)



61 (24)

27 (21)

62 (62)

47 (77)

37 (37)

234 (191)


*Numbers in parentheses are observations outside of Texas, exclusive of states west of the Rockies and Florida.
**Years with relatively low numbers of butterflies returning from Mexico.

Climatic extremes are instructive in that these unusual events tell us what monarchs have to deal with, from an evolutionary perspective, over a long time period. To survive over the millennia, monarchs have been selected to cope with the various challenges and extremes posed by variations in climate. My most recent lesson from mother nature concerning the extremes that monarchs deal with occurred over the last three weeks. Spring started off with a warmer than usual March and the first two weeks of April were normal, leading to a peak in the bloom of the flowering crabapple trees on campus on 14 April. (This is the mean day for such flowering according to my observations over the last 36 years.) So, we were off to a good start – a normal spring - and then, a major change occurred as a high-pressure ridge formed with winds predominantly from the NW. This system persisted for more than two weeks. The usual flow of warm air from the SW was cut off and clear nights followed by limited heating during the day resulted in 5 frosts after 20 April. The mean date for the last frost in my part of eastern Kansas is 15 April, but the variation around this mean is quite large. In some years the last frost occurs in early April and in most years it occurs well before the 15th. Nevertheless, the record late frost for the area is 6 May. This year the last frost occurred on the morning of May 3rd. These frosts took their toll on the plants and the leaves of many trees turned brown in the low-lying areas. I had been monitoring the progress of numerous painted lady larvae on thistles along a pathway I walk every day with my dog. Many of the more exposed larvae appeared to have died from the frost. Monarch larvae, if they had been in the area, would have certainly died; the milkweed did – all of the new shoots were burned and browned by the frosts in the natural areas and those in my milkweed garden, which had made a respectable appearance before the frost, were gone after the last frost. By 8 May new shoots had begun to appear in my milkweed garden but they were only an inch above ground. Normally, the common milkweed is at least 15 inches high by the 8th of May. Green milkweed, Asclepias viridis, usually grows rapidly in early May and typically flowers by the 16th, sometimes even earlier. It is just breaking ground now. Asclepias viridiflora, a common host for monarchs that move through Kansas on their way further north in May, is nowhere to be seen, nor is, A. sullivantii or A. amplexicaulis. What this means for the first generation monarchs moving north from Texas over the next four weeks is that host plants will be much harder to find – at least in my area of eastern Kansas. Elsewhere in the Midwest, while the low temperatures slowed plant growth, the frosts were less damaging and there have been occasional reports of early monarchs and surviving milkweed. One such report was received from Barbara Hagenson who lives in Clinton, Iowa:

“Your April 25 Update mentioned sightings in states outside of Texas, but w/o dates or states being mentioned. Have you ever had reports of Monarchs in Iowa in mid-April? I am curious, because we up here all think April is way too early - the milkweed is barely coming up - BUT, I do have caterpillars to prove that at least one Monarch made it all the way up to Iowa this early!

On April 19, I was watering some pansies in a planter on my A/C, and as I turned off the hose, I was staring at 3 eggs on a short milkweed plant! (I have a patch of milkweed, maybe 40 plants, on the south side of my house.) Further checking revealed another 2 dozen eggs; the next day I found 13 more eggs, and yet another 5 on Apr. 24 & 25. Currently I have 25 caterpillars which hatched 4/24, 10 which hatched 4/25, and the rest which hatched 4/29 - 5/1. The milkweed on which the eggs were laid ranged from 2" to about 9". In searching for milkweed to feed them (I like to save my plants for egg-laying, or emergency rations), I checked several locations which have yielded milkweed in past years, and found none until I walked a prairie and saw about 50 plants just coming up, but did not see any eggs.”

Last year Barbara didn’t find eggs until the 31 May. It’s probable that the eggs came from an overwintering female that was blown into Iowa before the cold weather at the end of the month shut down butterfly activity and plant growth. It is unlikely that the eggs came from a first generation female since progeny from the eggs laid by the returning overwintering females begin emerging in the last week of April in Texas. Jackie Goetz (Olathe, Kansas) - a well-known Master Gardener, butterfly expert, volunteer and supporter of Monarch Watch - was also lucky enough to have one or more overwintering females find her milkweed patch in mid April. Jackie was able to harvest a modest number of eggs from her milkweeds for educational programs. An early female in Illinois was also reported to Journey North. These early females are interesting, but they are probably too few in number to have any significant impact on the growth of the population.


2) Monarch Waystation Program

Monarchs need our help! Get involved in monarch conservation by creating a Monarch Waystation.

We officially launched our “Monarch Waystation” program last month and the response has been overwhelming! We are busy assembling a new batch of Monarch Waystation Seed Kits in an attempt to meet the demand and we are wrapping up the details of the certification/registration process for existing and newly established Monarch Waystations.


for complete, up-to-date information and support materials - we plan to add lots of new information in the coming weeks. Thank you for your support of this new conservation program!


3) Monarch Watch Spring Open House and Plant Fundraiser

It's tomorrow! ;-)

You are cordially invited to join us on Saturday, May 14th 8am-3pm for an Open House and Plant Fundraiser 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 2,000 butterfly plants (both annuals and perennials) including seedlings of five milkweed species, will be available (modest contributions are suggested). We will provide refreshments, lots of show & tell, videos and games for children, iChat videoconferencing demonstrations, 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) 2005 Monarch Tagging Kits

Earlier this year we announced new Tagging Kits for the 2005 monarch migration season this fall.

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.

Standard Tagging Kit:

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). These kits are especially suited for nature centers, zoos, schools and other organizations/individuals who would like to distribute a small number of tags to several monarch taggers.

Mini Tagging Kits:

As usual, we encourage you to order early - 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. Orders may be placed online or by phone, fax or mail; details are available at

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


5) New Monarch Poster

Monarch enthusiast and multi-talented artist Ron Brancato has created a stunning large format poster that illustrates the entire life cycle of the monarch butterfly. It includes descriptive text about each life stage and other aspects of the monarch butterfly's life history. The poster measures approximately 24" x 36" and comes laminated.

You can see a preview of it and/or order the poster at


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