Tag Archives: Beauty on the Wing


Monarch Caterpillars Common Milkweed ©Kim Smith 2012Milkweed Munching Monarchs

Although scientists have long known that the toxic sap that flows through milkweed veins, called cardenolides, can make a bird very sick if it attempts to eat a Monarch caterpillar, it was unclear whether the butterfly’s acquired adaption to the toxicity was a side effect that allowed the caterpillar to eat the milkweed or had developed separately as a defensive mechanism against predators. A Cornell University study recently published in Proceedings B of The Royal Society Publishing reveals that they have indeed evolved to weaponize milkweed toxins! Thank you so much to Maggie Rosa for sharing “The Scientist” article and you can read more about it here. 

“Monarch butterfly caterpillars have evolved the ability to store toxins known as cardenolides, obtained from their milkweed diet, specifically to make themselves poisonous to birds, as has at least one other species of milkweed-munching caterpillar, according to a study published Wednesday (November 4) in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

“This finding is fascinating and novel,” Stephen Malcolm, a professor at Western Michigan University who studies cardenolides but was not involved in the new research, wrote in an email to The Scientist. “It is exciting to have evidence for the importance of top-down influences from predators.” Continue Reading

Please join me Thursday evening, November 12th, at 7pm at the Sawyer Free Library for my illustrated talk, Beauty on the Wing ~ Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly. Looking forward to seeing you there!

Meadow monarch caterpillar ©Kim Smith 2015

Meadow Anderson and Monarch Caterpillar


Thank you so much to my friends Charles and George Ryan and Mom Catherine for helping with my Monarch film project. 

Charles and George Ryan Monarch caterpillars ©Kim Smith 2015

Nature’s Compass ~  My current group of nine Monarchs are synchronized, all lined up on a north-south axis and pupating within moments of each other.

Monarch caterpillars north south ©Kim Smith 2015JPG

From the moment a caterpillar emerges, internally it begins to form the adult parts of its body. Adult Monarchs have magnetic receptors along the inner margins of their thorax, which help guide them on their south to north, north to south migration. I wonder if the magnetic receptors are here at work in the caterpillars north-south pattern of pupating.

Monarch caterpillars J-shape, pupating ©Kim Smith 2015All nine hung in a J-shape on the north-south axis as well. Since I took this photo three more have also pupated on the north-south axis. In the above photo, you can see the center caterpillar and caterpillar to the far left are in the midst of changing from a caterpillar to a chrysalis (pupating).





Mini Mini Short Clip: American Robin Nestlings

During this past summer while filming B-roll for the monarch film I shot some wonderful little scenes, the baby robins for example. Oftentimes I just happen upon some stunningly beautiful event unfolding and because too many beauty scenes got away from me in the past, I have gotten really smart about nearly always traveling with camera bag in tow.

The four baby robins were in a nest that had been constructed at slightly higher than waist height, in a tree that was for sale at Wolf Hill. My friends at both Wolf Hill and Goose Cove Gardens are always so kind to point out these exciting happenstances, whether robin nestlings or Black Swallowtail caterpillars and eggs, and they are always tremendously accommodating, never minding when I run back to the car to grab my cameras! I only needed approximately fifteen seconds of robin footage, and here you have it! Thank you so much Kate for steering me to the robins!

In my monarch film there is a sequence about the different types of migrations that happen through our region. American Robins are especially interesting as the species has evolved a multi-fold strategy for surviving winter; in the fall, some robins leave Cape Ann for regions further south, some stay throughout the winter, and some arrive in great flocks in January and February from parts further north; for the Canada to Gloucester winter robins, Cape Ann is like their Bermuda!


What We Can Do to Help the Monarchs

Everywhere we turn this past month, there is a report in a major newspaper about the declining Monarch butterfly population. This forwarded from one of our GMG readers: “Monarch butterflies keep disappearing. Here’s why,” was published in the Washington Post on January 29th, 2014.

The author, Brad Plumer, interviewed Dr. Lincoln Brower, a professor of biology at Sweet Briar College and one of the nation’s leading authorities on the subject. I will be meeting Dr. Brower and interviewing him for my film while at the biosphere this month.

One of Dr. Brower’s suggestions on how we can help the Monarchs is along the millions of miles of roadsides in the eastern United States, if we cold get highway departments to plant for pollinators rather than cutting everything down and spraying herbicides. This would be of great help to the Monarchs, insects in general, and many species of birds.

I’ve thought a great deal about this and it is my foremost reason for creating butterfly and habitat gardens, such as the butterfly gardens at the Gloucester HarborWalk. I think too, of the many patches of unused city-owned land dotted about our community and how we could turn these little patches into habitats for all our winged friends. For several years I have wanted very much to organize this project however, I have my hands full with launching the film. Once the film is complete, my hope and plan is that it will become an inspirational and positive educational tool to help generate interest in community projects such as these.

In the meantime, as many of you may be aware, since 2007, I have been creating exhibits and giving lectures about the life story of the Monarch, on the state of butterflies migration, and how we can help the Monarchs, both as individuals and collectively. I purposefully do not publish a price on any of my lecture  listings because the cost of my programs are rated based on the size of your group or organization. No group is too small and I don’t want budget constraints to prohibit making the information available to all who are interested.

Here is a link to my Monarch program. If you and your organization would like to learn more about the Monarch Butterfly and how you can help, please contact me at kimsmithdesigns@hotmail.com.

Monarch Butterflies Gloucester Massachusetts ©Kim Smith 2006Spangled Dawn Eastern Point Gloucester Massachusetts

Recent Posts on GMG about the Monarch Butterfly:

September 2013

Where Are All the Monarchs?

November 2013

The Year the Monarch Didn’t Appear

January 2014

Monarch Butterflies in Crisis

Request for Help from GMG Community and Monarch Film Update

March 2013

How Exactly is Monsanto’s Roundup Ravaging the Monarch Butterfly Population?

To read more about the life story of the Monarch Butterfly type in Monarch in the GMG search box.


Request for Help from GMG Community and Monarch Film Update


For the past three years I have been filming the life story of the Monarch Butterfly in backyards and along the shores of Cape Ann. My original intent was to tell the story of the butterflies primarily as it relates to their northern breeding grounds and specifically here in our community. Prior to filming, I wrote a children’s story about the Monarchs and during this entire time I have had an ongoing inner debate as to whether or not to travel to Mexico. While editing the film these past few months, I determined that capturing the butterfly’s story in their winter sleeping grounds as they are awakening in Mexico would only add to the film’s depth and beauty. To film in Mexico would be a dream come true.

If you listened to Joey’s GMG podcast yesterday, you heard that in February I am going to be filming the butterflies in Mexico!! This all has come about very quickly! I have to practice walking five miles a day, recall how to ride a horse, and learn enough Spanish so that if I am separated from my group or kidnapped by bandits, I can at least inquire as to where is the bathroom.

Does anyone know of a local outfit that gives lessons in trail riding? And does anyone have experience with a Spanish language lesson CD (basic)? If so, can you please recommend in the comment section. Thank  you!!!!!!!

Stay tuned for adventures from Mexico! Beauty on the Wing ~ Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly will premiere  in the summer of 2014.

Rather than wait until the film was complete, this weekend I made a new website for the film-in-progress. When you have a moment, I hope you’ll visit my website and read more about Beauty on the Wing here.

monarch-butterfly-milkweed-good-harbor-beach-c2a9kim-smith-2011Monarch Butterfly Nectaring at Common Milkweed ~ Good Harbor Beach, Gloucester

Beauty on the Wing celebrates the poetry and majesty of the uniquely North American phenomenon of the Monarch butterfly and its migration. There are no other butterflies the world over that travel this distance and it is a fascinating ecological link that connects Mexico with nearly every geographic region within the United States and Canada. How well the forested habitats of Michoacán are taken care of is as of equal importance to the Monarchs as how we in Gloucester conserve our habitats.