Tag Archives: Monarch Butterfly Migration

YET ANOTHER BAD BREAK FOR THE MONARCHS

monarch-butterfly-gloucester-ma-2-copyright-kim-smithAmerica’s growing demand for avocados is fueling the deforestation of central Mexico’s forests. Avocado trees grow at the same altitude as do the sacred oyamel fir forests in the mountains of Michoacán, the only state in Mexico permitted to grow the fruit.

The Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, the Monarch’s unique winter habitat, is located in Michoacán and the state of Mexico. The area of deforestation is beginning to encroach on the butterfly’s sanctuary. Unfortunately the region is one of desperate poverty and avocado farming is extremely lucrative. Additionally, the avocado trees and chemicals used to maintain the farms are putting a tremendous strain on the crystalline mountain waters on which people, the butterflies, and myriad species of wildlife depend.

For more information, see links below:

http://www.fronterasdesk.org/content/9945/avocado-orchards-mexico-compete-forest-land

http://bigstory.ap.org/article/9176bc7479e048508203f10a68da6fa7/mexico-high-avocado-prices-fueling-deforestation

monarch-butterfly-and-bee-gloucester-ma-copyright-kim-smith

 

MONARCH BUTTERFLY FOUND ON NILES BEACH

GMG reader Hannah writes, 

Hi, I wanted to get this to Kim Smith. I have seen her posts about the migration and how they were not as many this summer. I found this beautiful frozen/starved monarch butterfly on Niles Beach two days ago and I am wondering if anyone knows how I could preserve this? It still has a little sand on it–too afraid to brush it off. Thanks!

Thank you for writing Hannah. That looks like a very wind and weather worn Monarch. I wonder how far it traveled to reach our shores. The easiest way to preserve your Monarch is to store it in a shadow box, which can be purchased at Target, Ikea, and Michaels. West Elm has some very nice linen-lined ones. The main thing is to keep it out of the sun or the wing color will fade. Folks used to tuck butterfly specimens away in cupboards with little drawers and compartments, to look at on occasion, but that can bring mice. The shadow boxes are so much nicer!

Your Monarch is clearly dead however I would like to make folks aware that sometimes butterflies appear frozen or dead but they are actually quite alive. A butterflies wings don’t work very well until they are thoroughly warmed. If you see a butterfly early in the morning, either lying on the ground or attached to a plant such as Seaside Goldenrod, it is probably simply waiting for the sun to rise and is best left undisturbed.

Also, as for the sand grains, you can remove those with a few gentle pumps of a bulb syringe or a photographer’s air blaster.

 

DOWN THE GARDEN PATH

monarch-new-england-aster-coneflower-copyright-kim-smithThe New England Asters and Quilled Coneflowers blooming in our garden during the months of September and October were planted to provide sustenance for migrating Monarchs. Although both are native wildflowers, the bees and butterflies visiting gardens at this time of year are much more interested in nectaring at the New England Asters.

Plant the following four native beauties and I guarantee, the pollinators will come!

New England Aster (Aster novae-angliae)

Seaside Goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens)

Marsh Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)

Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)

monarch-butterfly-depositing-egg-milkweed-copyright-kim-smithFemale Monarch curling her abdomen to the underside and depositing eggs on Marsh Milkweed foliage.

LEND ME YOUR EAR

Sometimes they just don't want to leave home🌻#monarchbutterfly

A photo posted by Kim Smith (@kimsmithdesigns) on

I couldn’t resist taking a selfie with this newly emerged Monarch after she at first fluttered onto my shoulder, flew to my hat, and then decided to stay for a bit on my neck.

Butterflies have sharp crochet-like hooks at the bottom of their tarsi (butterfly name for feet) and it feels a bit pokey when they land on your skin. The hooks enable the butterfly to grip securely to surfaces. During a strong wind, the hooked tarsi are all that is keeping the butterfly grounded.

Thank you Nicole Duckworth for the photo caption🙂

PLANTING MILKWEED WITH CAMILLA MACFADYEN AND THE SARROUFS!

img_4947img_4937Thank you to Dawn and John Sarrouf for sharing their milkweed planting photos. They are visiting their friend Camilla at her family home in Small Point Maine, which sounds like, from Dawn’s description, a gorgeously beautiful location, and ideal Monarch habitat. There are fields of wildflowers, and Seaside Goldenrod grows just as easily in the rocky outcroppings there as it does on Eastern Point. After looking at maps, it appears as if you could draw a virtual straight line from Small Point to Eastern Point. Dawn and friends spotted about ten butterflies yesterday. Perhaps we’ll be the next stop (after the predicted rainfall).

img_4946Camilla collected milkweed seed pods and enlisted the Sarroufs to help plant.

DAWN SARROUF PHOTOS

GMG FRIENDS REPORT THEIR MONARCH BUTTERFLY SIGHTINGS!!

Thank you Cheryl Allen, Wingaersheek Anonymous, Shaina, Pat, and Ellen for sharing your Monarch sightings. I am so appreciative of your time and comments.

Cheryl Allen writes: I am not sure you want this information because I live in Northern Virginia, but I am seeing at least a dozen if not more on my tropical milkweed plants this week – this is after the Monarch’s laying eggs back in July and those developed Monarch’s flying off. They are coming from the North I expect, but am gratified by seeing so many this year – more than I have ever seen in my garden over the last thirty years.

I want to thank you for alerting me to the Monarch crisis three years ago, I started planting Milkweed and spread the word to all my gardener friends, until I read your post regarding this crisis, I had no idea! I always enjoy your posts so much, I just missed seeing the baby Plovers by one week and was pretty crestfallen when I arrived a week after they were born, and no baby Plovers – Thanks for being such a friend to our wildlife and letting us know how we can help, it is much appreciated!

Thank you Cheryl for sharing your photos!

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Shaina writes: So far we’ve only see two beautiful monarchs. One was over the wild flower field at Appleton farm in Hamilton this past weekend. The other was yesterday fluttering over the water at lighthouse beach in annisquam. Our 3 year old daughter is in awe of the Monarchs it is so exciting to watch her admire them. Will keep you posted on our monarch sightings!

Anonymous writes: I live at 8 Bungalow Road in Gloucester. It is at Wingaersheek Beach. My wife has a wonderful garden and I have seen three this year. I am not sure how many she has seen. My last sighting was about 2 weeks ago. None since.

Ellen writes: Hi Kim! Love the your beautiful photos. I spotted one lonely Monarch fluttering over the sand at Long Beach. In years past we used to watch a few of them on the beach, but this year only one so far.

Pat writes: Kim–I don’t know what happened to the comment I left earlier today reporting monarch sightings in the Binghamton NY area — a few–maybe once a day for the last week or 10 days. But I wondered how we know they aren’t the viceroy butterfly?

PLEASE REPORT YOUR MONARCH SIGHTINGS HERE -THANK YOU!

There have been few Monarch sightings this summer but I have been hoping for a strong fall migration. The migration is peaking in Kansas and we are always a little bit behind. Please let me know if you see a Monarch, and where. Thank you very kindly!

Monarch stretching wide its wings in the morning sun #monarchbutterfly

A video posted by Kim Smith (@kimsmithdesigns) on

Monarchs are emerging daily in my garden, from eggs collected at my friend’s field in Salem. This too would be an indication that we may be seeing them soon.

newly-emerged-monarch-butterfly-copyright-kim-smith-jpgThis newly eclosed Monarch is clinging to its chrysalis case. Within moments of emerging, the two-part Monarch proboscis must zip together to form a siphoning tube. If the two parts do not join, the butterfly will not be able to drink nectar. In this photo, you can see the proboscis is not yet fully zipped. Note its wet, crumpled wings.

HELLO MAMA MONARCH!

Plant and they will come!

Female Monarch depositing eggs -1 copyright Kim Smith

Alighting on the buds of our Marsh Milkweed plants, you can see in these photos that the female Monarch is curling her abdomen to the underside to deposit eggs. She will go from bud to bud and leaf to leaf ovipositing one egg at a time. A female, on average, deposits 700 eggs during her lifetime, fewer in hot, dry weather.Female Monarch depositing eggs copyright Kim Smith

Female Monarch Butterfly and Marsh Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)

Butterflies do not “lay” eggs; we say oviposit or deposit. And you wouldn’t describe a caterpillar as hatched, but that it has emerged or eclosed.

Grow Marsh Milkweed and Common Milkweed and you most definitely will have female Monarchs calling your garden home!Female Monarch depositing eggs -2 copyright Kim SmithIn the above photo you can see how she is contorting her abdomen to correctly position the eggs

MY MONARCH BUTTERFLY FILM TRAILER!

Dear Friends,

I am super excited to write that today I am launching the trailer for my monarch butterfly documentary, Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly. I hope so much you enjoy watching as much as I have loved creating!

I am asking a huge favor of all my Good Morning Gloucester, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram friends and that is to please share the trailer, hit all like buttons, and if you have time, to please comment.

In seeking funding to finish the film, I am currently in the process of writing grant proposals. Recently, I was invited to join the Filmmakers Collaborative, which is a tremendous and well-respected organization that is providing excellent advice and will also act as the fiscal sponsor for the film. Each filmmaker represented by the Filmmakers Collaborative has a project page on the FC website and I invite you to visit mine here: Filmmakers Collaborative.

The next stages in finishing the documentary are title design, audio mixing, and color correcting. I’ll keep you posted on progress made through GMG, the film’s website, and my website.

Look for Pilar, Meadow, and Atticus in the trailer. They were wonderful and I am so appreciative of their assistance. There were additional kids from our East Gloucester troupe that participated in making the film however, I couldn’t squeeze them all in the trailer. I think you’ll love all the children’s parts in the finished film!

For more information about the documentary, please visit the film’s website here: Beauty on the Wing

My most sincerest thanks to everyone for your kind support!

Mexico documents big rebound in monarch butterflies

Thank you to Hannah Kimberley for submitting the following story ~

mexicodocumeIn this Jan. 4, 2015 file photo, a kaleidoscope of Monarch butterflies cling to tree branches, in the Piedra Herrada sanctuary, near Valle de Bravo, Mexico. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell, File)

By Mark Stevenson, Associated Press

Monarch butterflies have made a big comeback in their wintering grounds in Mexico, after suffering serious declines, experts said Friday.

The area covered by the orange-and-black insects in the mountains west of Mexico City this season was more than three and a half times greater than last winter. The butterflies clump so densely in the pine and fir forests they are counted by the area they cover rather than by individual insects.

The number of monarchs making the 3,400-mile (5,500-kilometer) migration from the United States and Canada declined steadily in recent years before recovering in 2014. This winter was even better.

This December, the butterflies covered 10 acres (about 4 hectares), compared to 2.8 acres (1.13 hectares) in 2014 and a record low of 1.66 acres (0.67 hectares) in 2013.

While that’s positive, the monarchs still face problems: The butterflies covered as much as 44 acres (18 hectares) 20 years ago.

“The news is good, but at the same time we shouldn’t let our guard down,” said Omar Vidal, director of the World Wildlife Fund in Mexico. “Now more than ever, Mexico, the United States, and Canada should increase their conservation efforts to protect and restore the habitat of this butterfly along its migratory route.”

The United States is working to reintroduce milkweed, a plant key to the butterflies’ migration, on about 1,160 square miles (3 million hectares) within five years, both by planting and by designating pesticide-free areas. Milkweed is the plant the butterflies feed and lay their eggs on, but it has been attacked by herbicide use and loss of open land in the United States.

Dan Ashe, the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said that in the first year of that effort, the United States had managed to restore about 250,000 acres (100,000 hectares) of milkweed, and raised about $20 million for the program.

“It is time for celebration because we see the beginning of success,” Ashe said. “But our task now is to continue building on that success.”

The Washington, D.C.-based Center for Biological Diversity, which is pushing for endangered species status for the monarchs, noted that even with the rebound, the butterflies are still only at 68 percent of their 22-year average. It said in a statement that “the population was expected to be up this winter due to favorable summer weather conditions in the monarch’s U.S. breeding areas.”

Read full story here

HOW RELOCATING TREES COULD HELP SAVE THE MONARCH BUTTERFLIES

monarchs-el-rosario-c2a9kim-smith-2014In February of 2014 when I traveled to El Rosario Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in Angangueo to film the Monarchs, we encountered some difficulty locating the butterflies. Because of global warming conditions the Monarchs had roosted much further up the mountain than was typical. We needed to climb an additional 1500 feet, nearly to the top of the mountain. There was no place higher for the butterflies on this mountain and I wondered at the time, where would they go as the earth becomes increasingly warmer.

Butterflies are heliothermic, which means they gain heat from the sun. During the winter it is imperative that the butterflies remain relatively cool and in a state of sexual immaturity, called diapause. The sheltering boughs of the sacred Oyamel Fir (Abeis religiosa) trees and the cool temperatures at the higher altitudes of the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Mountain Belt, in the past, have provided optimal habitat for the butterflies.

El Rosario ©Kim Smith 2014Leaving the Chaparral and Entering the Oyamel Fir Forset

Oyamel Fir trees Abeis religiosa ©Kim Smith 2014 copyOyamel Fir Forest

The butterflies currently roost at altitudes between 9,500 and 10,800 feet. Mexican scientists are planning to progressively move the trees higher up the mountainsides in a race to save the fir trees. Last summer several hundred seedlings were planted at 11,286 feet where habitat best suited to Monarchs is expected to be by 2030.

Excerpt from “To Protect Monarch Butterfly, a Plan to Save the Sacred Firs”

By Janet Marinelli

“While U.S. biologists urge gardeners to plant milkweeds to help restore the monarchs’ summer habitat, Mexican scientists are pinning their hopes on a plan to move the species progressively higher up local mountainsides in a race to save these firs and the butterflies that depend on them. “We have to act now,” says the plan’s architect, Cuauhtémoc Sáenz-Romero, a forest geneticist at the Universidad Michoacana de San Nicolás de Hidalgo. “Later will be too late, because the trees will be dead or too weak to produce seeds in enough quantity for large reforestation programs.”

When the rainy season arrived last summer, a few hundred seedlings were planted at 11,286 feet, where habitat suited to oyamel fir trees is expected to be by 2030. By then, according to retired U.S. Forest Service geneticist Jerry Rehfeldt, who co-authored a paper with Sáenz-Romero on global warming’s effect on oyamels, temperatures in the reserve could rise above pre-industrial levels by 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit by 2030, and suitable habitat could shrink by nearly 70 percent. The scientists’ research further suggests that by the end of the century, habitat that meets the fir’s needs may no longer exist anywhere inside the reserve. Trees would have to be planted at higher altitudes on peaks more than 100 miles away from the monarch’s migratory home.

The sacred fir is a poster child for the plight of trees around the globe. Trees provide habitat for countless species and underpin ecosystems as well as human economies, but as a group they are highly imperiled. A diagram in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2014 Working Group II report shows that of all life forms, trees are least able to respond to rapid climate change. Rooted in place, they have not evolved for rapid locomotion. Many take decades to mature and reproduce.

The breakneck speed of current global warming dwarfs anything in the fossil record, even what Lee Kump, professor of geosciences at Penn State University, has called “the last great global warming” 56 million years ago during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum. At that time, over the course of a few thousand years, global temperatures soared 9°F as the supercontinent Pangaea broke apart. By comparison, if carbon emissions are not slashed soon, scientists warn it’s possible we could witness that much warming in a matter of centuries, if not decades. Without human help, trees and many other plant and animal species most likely won’t be able to migrate fast enough to keep pace with rapidly changing conditions.”

READ THE COMPLETE ARTICLE HERE

So many thanks to my friend Eric Hutchins for forwarding this article!!

Monarch butterflies oyamel trees Abeis religiosa ©Kim Smith 2014 copyOyamel Boughs Enveloped in Monarchs

My Monarch Butterfly Film at the Leonardo Museum in Utah!

As part of a revolving exhibit titled “Spark!,” the short film that I created for the Berkshire Museum, A Flight of Monarchs, will be playing continuously from now through November at the Leonardo in Salt Lake City, Utah. I am super excited about this–the exhibit sounds wonderful–

“What is “spark?” Is it that feeling you get when you know you’re on to something big? Is it that irresistible flow of an idea that’s just about to burst into reality? What happens when your creativity is ignited?  What becomes possible?

We get it– which is why we created this brand new (and really big) exhibition.

Imagine, explore and interact with over 700 pieces of original 2D and 3D art, live performances, original writings, and more.”  Read more about it here: SPARK!

Thank you for watching! More about Monarchs and the potential for a spike in this year’s southward migration tomorrow. 

MONARCH DAY! STARRING THE EAST GLOUCESTER NEIGHBORHOOD GANG

Pilar Monarch Day ©Kim Smith 2015Pilar has started a new fashion trend, Monarchs as hair accessory.

Enchanted by Monarchs!  We had a fantastic day filmmaking, thanks to Emma, Pilar, Frieda, Annie Kate, Lotus, April, Elijah, Esme, Charlie, Atticus, and last but not least, Meadow. And an extra huge thank you to all the moms and dads for not minding the early morning wake up calls and texts to let the kids know the butterflies were emerging! I was tied up filming and so wish I’d taken more stills.

Annie kate, Emma, Pilar Monarch Day ©kim Smith 2015 copyAnnie Kate, Emma, and Pilar

Meadow Monarch Day ©Kim Smith 2015 copy

Meadow

SEE MORE PHOTOS HERE Read more

GOOD MORNING FROM CABOT FARM!

For Nancy Lutts. Thank you dear lady!

After collecting Monarch eggs last weekend, Nancy graciously allowed me to return to her gorgeous Cabot Farm to film and to photograph. I was there at sunrise, which is relatively early in the day for butterfly sightings however, I did see four Monarchs and two were females depositing eggs all over the field!

Bench Cabot Farm Salem ©Kim Smith 2015Nancy’s Pollinator Garden

Sunrise Cabot Farm Salem ©Kim Smith 2015View from Nancy’s Milkweed Field
Cabot Farm Salem ©Kim Smith 2015Sunflowers Cabot Farm Salem ©Kim Smith 2015Scarlet runner Beans Cabot Farm Salem ©Kim Smith 2015Scarlet Runner Bean; the blossoms are beloved by hummingbirds.

Barn Cabot Farm Salem ©Kim Smith 2015

READ MORE HERE Read more

New Film: A Flight of Monarchs

When watching, know that the first two minutes of the film were shot in Gloucester. I think you will be dazzled by the sheer numbers of Monarchs that travel through Cape Ann’s backyards and meadows during the peak of migration.

I began photographing the Monarchs in 2006, which was a year when we had an extraordinary number of Monarchs visiting our shores. At that time, I became determined that if ever again this phenomenon were to occur on Cape Ann, I was going to have the ability to document on film, rather than only through still images, this beautiful event for my community. It’s hard to imagine without observing and here you can see what I have wanted to share.

A Flight of Monarchs begins on a September day as first one and then passels of Monarchs begin to arrive to the fields and meadows of Cape Ann, carried across Massachusetts Bay on a tailwind. By the early evening light they begin to pour into the surrounding trees, clustering to stay warm in the branches furthest away from the prevailing breezes. The following morning as the sun begins to touch their wings, they alight from the trees, seeking the freshest wildflowers from which to drink nectar to help build their lipid reserves for the several thousand mile journey south. They drink and drink until the last of the sun’s rays dip below the tree line. As they arrived on a tailwind, they again depart, and are carried to the next gathering area. For coastal Monarchs, Allens Pond, which is located in Westport, Massachusetts is often the next stop.

In the next scene, the butterflies have arrived to the sacred oyamel fir forests of Angangueo, Michoacán, deep in the heart of the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt. It’s early morning and the butterflies are suspended in great primordial branched clusters that may become so heavy from the weight of so many butterflies the boughs of the trees bend to the breaking point. Later in the day, as the sun begins to warm their wings, the butterflies begin to stir. During the winter, it is imperative that the Monarch’s body temperature remains relatively low. They leave the sunniest branches in search of shade and a drink of water from nearby mountain streams. Occasionally in late February, as the air temperatures begin to warm with the coming springtime, for a short period during the day, the butterflies leave the trees all at once. This phenomenon is called a butterfly “explosion,” and is a truly magnificent event to observe.

A Flight of Monarchs is set to the evocative and tender “Fields of Blue,” written and performed by composer and guitarist Jesse Cook and his band, to which permission was granted by the artist for the purpose of this short film. Here is a link to Cook’s website. I highly, highly recommend attending a live performance of Jesse Cook and Company. As was I, you will be completely taken by their gorgeous music, exquisite artistry, and with Cook’s songwriting, will travel in beautiful melodies inspired from around the world.

I am currently editing my feature length documentary, Beauty on the Wing, which after months and months of organizing and editing three years of footage, is currently running at approximately twelve hours in length. At eleven hours too long, I have a great deal of editing to accomplish in the coming winter months!

A Flight of Monarchs presented here is the shorter version of the film that I created for the Berkshire Museum’s “Butterflies” exhibit. The first version is six minutes long and played on a continuous loop in the main gallery of the exhibit hall. The longer version will soon be posted on Vimeo.

 

Report Monarch Sightings Here!

Monarch Butterfly Gloucester MA ©Kim Smith 2014More Monarch sightings reported on Cape Ann by GMG readers over the past several days, October 14th and 15th!

Monarchs640Maggis Rosa submits this photo from The Scientist Magazine, which was their Image of the Day and was shot by Luna Sin Estrellas at El Rosario Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, where the butterflies are arriving earlier than usual and in greater numbers than last year.

photo (2)To the reader who sent the above photo, I unfortunately accidentally deleted the email. Please forgive and please let us know your name and where the photo was taken. Thank you!

Ed Note: Nancy Dudley writes, “The photo in the post w/o a caption was at the Essex Shipbuilding Museum. We are seeing a couple a day this week. Thanks! I am looking for the milkweed seeds I got from you to plant in my marsh soon!”

Monarchs on the Wing ©Kim Smith 2014The Monarchs are back! Cape Ann GMG FOBs are continuing to report their Monarch sightings.

After taking a break during the rain of last week (butterfly’s wings don’t work very well in foul weather), the Monarchs are again moving through our region. Check the comment section to see all the recent sightings in our community. The above photo was taken yesterday, Monday, October 6th on Eastern Point. The photo below was shot last week, before the rain’s onset.

Monarch in flight ©Kim Smith 2014Monarch in Mid-Flight and New England Asters

Tip ~ This morning I ran into my friend Maggie and her husband who had just rescued a Monarch from the middle of the road. Butterfly wings don’t work very well in cool temperatures. If you find a Monarch in a seemingly quiet and weakened state, it could quite possibly simply be cold. Place the butterfly in a sheltered and sunny spot and it may very well revive!

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In 1975, in Angangueo, at the time when the butterflies winter grounds were first located by Mexican citizen Catalina Aguado and her American husband Ken Brugger, they not only discovered billions roosting on the limbs of the oyamel fir trees but also millions quietly at rest on the forest floor. Thinking that the butterflies were dead, some members of the discovery group brought the butterflies back to their homes. Later in the day, after the butterfly’s flight muscles had warmed, they awoke and began to fly. Today at the butterfly biosphere reserves it is against the rules to pick up or touch a sleeping butterfly.

Monarch Butterfly Nectaring Joe Pye ©Kim Smith 2012Joe-pye Weed (Eupatorium)

In Sunday’s podcast (September 21st), Joey made the super suggestion to create a place where GMG readers can report their Monarch butterfly sightings. I’ll repost this post every night for the next week or so. Please report any sightings to the comment section of this post, that way we can keep all sightings in one collective spot. You can send in a photo capture if you’d like, too.

Today as I was leaving our home, around noon time, I spotted a Monarch in our garden in East Gloucester. Let us know what you see. Thank you!

Monarch Butterfly Eastern Point Gloucester ©kim Smith 2012

 

Monarchs in the News

Three very interesting articles were shared this past week by friends and GMG FOBs. Thank you!!! I love reading what you send and below are the links to share with readers. Again, thank you!

Monarch Butterfly Butterfly Bush  ©Kim Smith 2014

Frieda from Again and Again forwarded this from Nature:

“The monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus, is famous for its spectacular annual migration across North America, recent worldwide dispersal, and orange warning colouration. Despite decades of study and broad public interest, we know little about the genetic basis of these hallmark traits. Here we uncover the history of the monarch’s evolutionary origin and global dispersal, characterize the genes and pathways associated with migratory behaviour, and identify the discrete genetic basis of warning colouration by sequencing 101 Danaus genomes from around the globe.” Link to Nature article.

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Our Catherine Ryan forwards from the New York Times:

Why Some Monarch Butterflies Are Marathoners”

Monarch butterflies can be found throughout the world, but only in North America do they make a spectacular mass migration, annually flying from as far north as Canada to winter in Mexico.

Now, by sequencing genomes of 90 monarch butterflies from around the world, researchers have discovered a gene that plays a critical role in determining whether monarchs are migratory, along with new details about their origins, migratory behavior and coloring.

Read Full Article Here

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Josh Dickinson from the University of Florida in Gainseville forwarded the following:

“A Strange Cloud Over St. Louis Turns Out to Be an Enormous Swarm of Butterflies”

Late last week, meteorologists in St. Louis noticed a cloud acting peculiarly: It was beating a path toward Mexico while changing into a variety of odd shapes. Was it a radar glitch? The debris signature of a south-moving tornado?

The answer was more heartening—and bizarre. After analyzing the reflections,the National Weather Service concluded they showed an immense swarm of Monarch butterflies migrating to their winter home in the Mexican mountains:

Here’s how it technically arrived at that conclusion, for the weather geeks out there:

Keen observers of our radar data probably noticed some fairly high returns moving south over southern Illinois and central Missouri. High differential reflectivity values as well as low correlation coefficient values indicate these are most likely biological targets. High differential reflectivity indicates these are oblate targets, and low correlation coefficient means the targets are changing shape. We think these targets are Monarch butterflies. A Monarch in flight would look oblate to the radar, and flapping wings would account for the changing shape! NWS St. Louis wishes good luck and a safe journey to these amazing little creatures on their long journey south!

Read Full Article Here

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“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.

 

 

 

Please Don’t Weed the Milkweed

Common Milweed Asclepias syriaca ©Kim Smith 2014Once established, native Common Milkweed grows vigorously and rambunctiously, making itself known even in the thinnest of sidewalk cracks. Here’s a patch growing along East Main Street. I think it beautiful! What do you think?

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If you caught Tom Ashbrook’s On Point broadcast on NPR this morning you heard Doctor Lincoln Brower, Karen Oberhausser, and Rick Mikula, three of the world’s leading butterfly experts, speaking about the disappearance of the Monarch and the main reason why–most notably because of the sterilization of the American landscape through the use Monsanto’s Roundup and GMO corn and soybean crops. The episode is airing again tonight at 8pm.

The following is a list of a few suggestions on ways in which we can all help turn the tide:

Plant milkweed and wildflowers. Teach members of your family and friends what milkweed looks like and why we don’t want to weed it out of the garden. The above patch of milkweed is growing next to a shop on East Main Street. About a month ago, I went into the store and, very, very politely inquired as to whether or not they knew that the plant growing outside their doorway was a terrific patch of milkweed. They had no idea. I explained what the benefits were to the Monarchs and have since noticed that the milkweed patch is still growing beautifully!

Ban GMO crops. Genetically modified seeds have been altered to withstand megadoses of Roundup. Millions and millions of tons of herbicides are poured onto Roundup Ready fields of crops, preventing any other plant that has not been genetically altered from growing (in other words, wildflowers). The application of Monsanto’s deadly destructive herbicide Roundup is creating vast sterilized agricultural wastelands, which will, over time, only need heavier and heavier does of their lethal chemicals to continue to be viable.

Don’t apply herbicides and pesticides in your own gardens.

Create wildflower corridors in backyards and highways.

Reduce salt wherever possible (and where it wouldn’t cause harm to human life). Large amounts of road salt, as was needed during this past snowiest of winters, is detrimental to wildlife habitats.

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