Tag Archives: Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus)


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


Cape Ann Monarch Butterfly Migration Update

Monarch Butterfly bougainvillea ©Kim Smith 2015Female Monarch and Bougainvillea

Monarch Butterflies Daisies ©Kim Smith 2015Methuselah Monarchs Heading to Mexico

Our last batch of Monarchs emerged from their chrysalides, dried their wings, and caught the tailwinds to Michoacán. I hope they arrive to their winter roosting sites at the trans-Mexican volcanic mountaintops safely!

Although not many migrating Monarchs were reported on the shores of Cape Ann, a great batch was seen migrating over Lake Erie in late summer. Cape May, which is 400 miles south of Cape Ann, also had a strong showing. Keep on the lookout though because on Election Day in 2007, I photographed a Monarch refueling at Korean Daisies.

The Monarchs are counted by the Mexican scientists in December and the numbers released in January. Last year a tiny increase from 2013 was noted (2013 was the year the lowest numbers were ever recorded). Lets keep our hopes up that the population will continue to improve.

Monarch Butterfly sunflower ©Kim Smith 2015

Last Sunflowers of the Season

Monarch Butterfly daisy ©Kim Smith 2015Monarch Butterfly pink bougainvillea ©Kim Smith 2015

“Discovered: The Monarchs Mexican Haven” from National Geographic, August 1976

National GeographicBecause of the current stretch of rainy weather there will be few Monarch sightings at this time. Butterfly’s wings don’t work very well in the cold and rain. We can hope that if the warm weather returns there will be a greater number of butterflies migrating through our region than the passel of last week. In the mean time, I thought I’d share one of my most treasured possessions, which is the August 1976 issue of National Geographic. I purchased this copy when I began doing research for my Monarch film and children’s book. If I remember correctly, it was $2.50 on eBay–lucky me to find a copy!!

The issue tells the story of the “discovery” of the Monarchs by scientists. I have reservations in writing the word discovery because it is difficult to imagine that the native peoples living in the region did not know of their existence long before westerners. As a matter of fact, the woman who led the discovery, Catalina Aguado, was  born in Michoacán, the Mexican state that is home to the butterflies wintering grounds. Catalina is the only living member of the original team featured in the 1976 National Geographic article.

The complete article is available to read online here.

There have been three interesting and noteworthy Monarch stories in the news recently, forwarded to us by our GMG FOBs. Stay tuned for a post tomorrow with summaries and links to all three articles.




From Germany to Logan to Gloucester, for Butterflies!

I sent the following to the Boss this morning: Thought you would like to know–Last night at sunset I was filming B roll at the EP Lighthouse. A German couple was there, with binoculars, and they had just arrived from Germany. I asked what they were looking for and they said, “Monarchs,” because they had seen all the butterfly postings on GMG, not only mine, Donna’s, too, and all the comments. Sometimes I think I am posting TMI about butterflies, but I thought you would think this pretty funny, and amazing; straight away from Germany to Logan to Gloucester, for butterflies!

To the lovely couple from Germany that was at the Lighthouse yesterday: Come on down to the dock to get your GMG sticker and meet Joey C, the creator of Good Morning Gloucester. He’d love to meet you!  Captain Joe and Sons is located at 95 East Main Street.

Dogbar Breakwater Eastern Point, Gloucester

Farewell Monarchs

Inquiring minds want to know, “Where do the Monarchs go?” I am often asked this question, not by children, but by adults. Most children have studied, or are studying, the butterfly life cycle and the have some degree of knowledge about the Monarch migration. The reason the majority of adults never learned about the Monarch butterfly migration is because the great mystery of their winter destination was only discovered as recently as 1975! The Monarchs that are journeying through Gloucester at this time of year travel approximately 2,000 miles to the transvolcanic mountaintops of  south central Mexico, near the town of Angangueo. I have the National Geographic issue from 1975 that tells the tale of one man’s determination, including all the scientific intrigue that goes with great discoveries, and I will try to post more about this fascinating story in the coming weeks.

As everyone who reads GMG probably knows by now, I am in the midst of shooting my Monarch film. What you may not know is that I have written and illustrated a book that tells the story of this most exquisite of creatures and its extraordinary journey. I am hoping to find a publisher. If anyone knows a friend of a friend of a friend, or has a suggestion for a very high quality publisher or top-notch agent, please let me know. Thank you.

Monarch Flakes

Click the photo to view larger and you will see the little Monarch flakes heading into the cherry tree. The clustering Monarchs were well-camoflouged by the autumn foliage nonetheless, their silhouettes are clearly visible in the setting sun.

Another passel of Monarchs poured onto the Point last Thursday at dusk, carried in by the warm southerly breeze. Overnight the wind shifted, coming in from the northeast, and by day break Friday morning, the Monarchs had flown from the trees, carried to shores further south by the blustery tailwind.