Hundreds of Monarch butterflies paused in the Texas Hill Country this weekend as winds from the south and temperatures in the 90s prevented the migrating insects from continuing their journey south.
Most late season nectar plants had passed their peak, with much of the Frostweed, Verbesina virginica, and Goldenrod, Solidago altissima, two late season nectar favorites, starting to go to seed. Cowpen daisies, Verbesina enceliodes, situated in shady spots produced lush, new blooms, offering the stymied flyers a fuel stop.
On the river banks, Swamp milkweed, Asclepius incarnata, host plant for Monarchs and Queens, showed fresh foliage for late season caterpillars, providing plenty of host plant for those Monarchs who chose to ditch the migration and reproduce locally.
David Berman, PhD candidate in the integrative biology program at Oklahoma State University, made the second of three scheduled visits to the ranch this weekend.
Berman is gathering data for a study funded by the Texas State Comptroller’s Office and other organizations, looking at the impacts of parasitoids and fifth generation Monarch butterflies on the migrating Monarch population.
In the back of his white Durango, Berman carried an entire ice chest filled with dead Monarch and Queen caterpillars collected in Texas and infected with Tachinid flies. The gross fly has a science fiction-like life cycle: it deposits its eggs on Monarchs and other caterpillars, which then hatch inside the caterpillar and eat it from the inside out.
Here along the Llano, known as the “last wild river” in Texas, dozens of Monarch butterfly caterpillars in all stages of development —eggs, caterpillars and adult butterflies in migrating mode—supplied plenty of data for his study.
“I’d have to agree with Dr. Chip Taylor that the migration will be late and long this year,” said Berman.
A small tagging team attempted to net the smaller-than-usual clusters of six-10 butterflies we usually encounter during peak Monarch season.
High temperatures in the low nineties and winds out of the south gusting at 29 mph thwarted the butterflies directional flight south. They also seemed more skittish than usual, clinging to pecan limbs close to the limestone escarpment that provides a scenic backdrop to our river bottom.
Every time they left a pecan limb or cedar branch to continue their travels, a rush of wind would push them back. The wind made netting the creatures more challenging than usual, as the slightest pivot of the Monarch’s wings or body would allow them to take a dramatic turn and avert our swoops. A full day on the river only netted 58 tagged, compared to three times that many last year.
As the sun set on a mid October day that called for shorts and t-shirts instead of the usual jeans and long sleeves, we all wondered: is this the new normal? Rather than dramatic dense clusters of hundreds or thousands of butterflies roosting a few nights as in peak seasons past, maybe we’ll be seeing smaller groups over many weeks.
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Monarch butterflies are on the move in what is likely to be a late migration.
Here in San Antonio, we’re entering peak migration time, as deemed by the calendar put together by Monarch Watch, the citizen science initiative that tracks the migrating insects. The calendar uses tagging data collected over decades to predict when the masses of Monarch butterflies are likely to move across specific latitudes on their way to Mexico.
The best way to enjoy the fun is to get outside as much as possible to see what’s going on with the famous flyers. But that’s not always possible. Work, school and/or other obligations always seem to get in the way.
Not to worry. By tapping the resources below, you’ll be able to stay on top of the Monarch butterfly migration right from your desk or mobile device. Check out the cool tools available at the intersection of technology and (citizen) science listed below.
First stop should be the Journey North website. A free internet-based program that explores the interrelated aspects of seasonal change, Journey North tracks wildlife migrations including hummingbirds, whales and bald eagles. This time of year, the Monarch migration gets top billing. Journey North founder Elizabeth Howard told us that hundreds of thousands of people per month visit the site during Monarch migration season.
And with good reason. Journey North offers constantly updated maps showing where adult Monarchs, eggs, caterpillars, and roosts have been spotted. Photos and reports from citizen scientists, butterfly enthusiasts, professional photographers and academics populate the site, along with training and resources for teachers and others.
In last week’s map, below, overnight roosts were recently observed in North Texas.
Journey North also publishes a weekly migration update on Thursdays, often written by founder Elizabeth Howard, like this one from October 6: “A sudden and dramatic sweep into northern Texas occurred this week as the migration map shows. A river of wind carried monarchs by the thousands across Missouri and Oklahoma where a roost of 4,000 butterflies was reported — the largest of the season. On Friday, September 30, a dozen Texans reported in as a wave of butterflies arrived.
Monarch butterfly news, from many of my favorite sources–including Journey North and Monarch Watch.
Granted, not everyone uses Twitter, but an estimated 313+ million people and myriad organizations tap the free, real-time application as a search engine and personal or professional broadcast outlet.
That means you can visit http://search.twitter.com and punch in “monarch butterflies” or “monarch migration” or “tagged monarch butterfly” and dozens of hours-old “tweets”–brief 140-character updates—will be returned, telling you where Monarchs are flying RIGHT NOW.
For example, this search of “monarch butterflies” on Twitter today, retrieved a feed that included these beautiful photos.
Twitter indexes the last 3200 tweets of any individual, so if you’re looking for historical archives, better check Google and other search engines. You can try searching Google News, but this won’t return the real-time reports Twitter delivers. Check it out.
For those of us who live in the Texas funnel, the wind plays an especially significant role in planning for Monarch tagging outings. During Monarch season, I plot each weekend for maximum Monarch activity.
Before leaving town, I check the Wind Map, a fantastic tool that shows which way the winds are blowing. If winds are coming out of the North, that means Monarchs will be riding the wave and we could have a big mass when they drop from the sky at sunset and roost for the night.
If winds are coming from the South, Monarchs won’t be moving much. That could mean they’re stranded in place, which could also make for good tagging since they will likely hang out and nectar on late blooming flowers.
Either way, the map lets us know what’s coming. Plus, it’s simply a dreamy tool, with it’s visual articulation of nature’s breath expressed in real-time.
As the site descriptor says: “An invisible, ancient source of energy surrounds us—energy that powered the first explorations of the world, and that may be a key to the future. This map shows you the delicate tracery of wind flowing over the US.”
The wind map is an art project of Fernanda Viégas and Martin Wattenberg who lead Google’s “Big Picture” visualization research group in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The talented team are committed to a “rigorous understanding of visualization” informed by their Ph.Ds–Viégas’ graduate degree from the MIT Media Lab; Wattenberg’s in mathematics, from U.C. Berkeley.
LOVE this project.
Monarch Watch and Journey North Facebook Pages
If you’re reading this and you’re on Facebook, then you likely have already “LIKED” the Monarch Watch and Journey North Facebook pages. If not, go ahead, do it now, and join the party. (And while you’re at it, why not LIKE the Texas Butterfly Ranch Facebook page?)
With more than 38,000 fans, Monarch Watch’s page serves as a delightful online plaza where the Monarch Watch team from the University of Kansas engages with the rest of us to share information, photos, and wax passionate about Monarch butterflies and their migration. Citizen scientists like Rachel Shoemaker form Bixby Oklahoma, recreational observers, and professional and amateur biologists and entomologists join the conversation.
The Journey North Facebook page, with more than 24,000 fans is equally engaging. Journey North posts regular updates and visitors like Peggyanne Wink in Pennsylvania share sightings and observations (see below).
Numerous other Monarch butterfly pages have cropped up on Facebook in recent months, including this one that tracks Migrant Monarch Tag Reports. The page is a closed group, meaning you have to request access. It describes itself as a page “created for those people who find tagged monarch migrants. Take a picture if you can of the tag number or post the tag number so people can track their tagged monarchs. Please only post about tagged monarchs you’ve witnessed or found.”
Journey North devotes itself to wildlife migrations besides Monarch butterflies, but the Monarch Watch website brags Monarch butterflies, all the time.
Based at the University of Kansas at Lawrence, Monarch Watch founded the citizen scientist tagging program embraced by thousands of us who tag Monarchs each fall. Its comprehensive website offers information on how to tag a Monarch, raising milkweed, rearing Monarch caterpillars, and a database of all the Monarch tags recovered in Mexico, so those of us who tag can find out if any of our butterflies made it home.
Thanks to Monarch Watch, I was able to determine that the butterfly I netted on October 1 this year had been tagged in Tishomingo, Oklahoma nine days earlier. Pretty cool story–read it here.
The site posts predictions for when the peak migration will occur at your latitude based on Monarch Watch scientists’ well-researched opinions. The Monarch Watch blog is also worth a look and you can join thousands of others to get on the mailing list.
If the above won’t sate your migration curiosity, then consider signing up for the D-PLEX list, an email exchange that includes about 800 scientists, conservationists, enthusiasts, and others, including some very interesting characters.
Named after the Monarch butterfly’s Latin designation, Danaus plexipus, the D-PLEX is an old fashioned email listserv started by Monarch Watch founder Dr. Chip Taylor and invites the public. Sign up to receive D-PLEX emails on the Monarch Watch webpage.
Careful, though. The D-PLEX can overtake your email inbox. Conversations can escalate, generating dozens of emails a day, many of which you may not find useful. Sometimes exchanges devolve into rude online arguments. I’ve set up all D-PLEX emails to forward to a special email box that I check periodically, so as not to be overwhelmed.
Don’t forget to check in with us here at the Texas Butterfly Ranch, too. We’ll do our best to keep you posted.
Like what you’re reading? Follow butterfly and native plant news at the Texas Butterfly Ranch. Sign up for email delivery in the righthand navigation bar of this page, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter, @monikam.
A male Monarch butterfly, tag number WMX658, paused Saturday morning October 1 around 11 AM on a fresh Frostweed bloom along the Llano River. Netted and retrieved, the faded Monarch was photographed, then released to set sail for his flight to Mexico.
Thanks to the miracles of social media and the tight-knit Monarch butterfly community, it soon became apparent that Mr. WMX658 was tagged at the Tishomingo National Wildlife Refuge in southern Oklahoma on September 22 about 10:30 AM by Justin Roach, wildlife biologist for the US Fish and Wildlife Service refuge there.
Roach said by phone that WMX658 was one of 15 butterflies tagged that day. About 350 miles later, I netted the butterfly in Kimble County near London, Texas.
That means WMX658 traveled about 44 miles per day, an impressive clip, to reach our nectar patch along the Llano. Hopefully, he’ll have fueled up enough in Texas to carry him the remaining 920 miles to the overwintering roosts in Mexico.
“It seems the migration is more consistent this year than I’ve ever seen. Every day there’s been a few,” said Roach, who usually tags between 100-200 butterflies annually. The day WMX658 was tagged, butterflies were nectaring on Smartweed, a member of the Polygonum family. Roach said a school outing was planned for that Thursday, but somehow the kids couldn’t make it so he just tagged with staff.
Having tagged about 1,000 Monarchs since 1997, Roach has had two recoveries in Mexico, where the butterflies are typically found on the forest floor after having made the full trip to Michoacán. This was the first time someone found a Monarch he had tagged and reported it live.
It was a first for me as well. In 11 years of tagging more than 3,000 Monarch butterflies with 29 recoveries, I had never netted a Monarch tagged elsewhere.
Our Oklahoma Monarch was just one of about two dozen spotted and 11 tagged on the Llano this weekend–all males. Just a week prior, on September 26, more than five inches of rain fell in the Texas Hill Country and parts of South Texas. The storm system left the landscape thoroughly drenched and primed for sustaining late season blooms for peak migration visitors later this month.
Many Swamp milkweed stands, Asclepius incarnata, that exhibited packs of aphids, milkweed beetles and bugs just two weeks ago, were now washed clean, losing lower milkweed leaves to “drowning” by water levels that rose 4 – 6 feet. Seedpods have replaced the pink flowers while other late season bloomers drew literally thousands of butterflies.
--all photos by Monika Maeckle
Frostweed, Verbesina virginica, was a favorite draw for Queens, Spangled, Gulf and other fritillaries, Giant, Pipevine and Eastern Swallowtails, skippers, snouts, sulphurs–everyone swarmed to the nectar fest that the recent weather pattern has made possible. And the wilted, yellowed, washed out milkweed leaves didn’t stop Monarchs and Queens from laying their eggs on remaining healthy foliage. At least one more hatch will occur before peak migration arrives the last two weeks of October.
The snout-nosed butterfly invasion that hit us two weeks ago seems to bode well for butterflies in general. While the snouts were not quite as obvious this weekend at the ranch, they made a repeat–even exaggerated appearance in San Antonio midweek.
The small, orange-and-black brushfooted butterflies made headlines in early September because of their staggering presence. Just last Thursday, on September 29, literally millions of the small orange and black flyers filled the skies of downtown San Antonio, clogging car grills, spattering windshields, and confusing many who thought they were Monarchs.
“I looked outside and it was like a butterfly highway,” said Rebecca Guererro, a stylist at Mint Salon in downtown San Antonio on Thursday.
Monarchs have begun showing up in steady trickles in these parts just in the last week. The storied migrants were pushed south by a recent cold front and the dry-wet weather has set the stage for a bounty of nectar.
A kayak tour of the Llano revealed no caterpillars this trip, although plenty of Queen and Monarch eggs were present on the mud-coated Swamp milkweeds that bowed to the floodwaters which rose about six feet.
Dr. Chip Taylor of Monarch Watch issued a migration update on September 26 predicting a late migration this year.
“A while back I pointed out the probability that the migration would be late and long this year. That is likely to be the case,” said Taylor, pointing to hot weather as the cause. “Last week was a scorcher through much of the midwest with temperatures in the 90s and high-80s over a broad area. The migration advances slowly, if at all, under these conditions. The ideal temperatures for the migrants are in the 70s and 60s,” he said.
The Journey North website reported streams of Monarchs heading south through the central and eastern flyways. The site attributed the movement to a cold front that “dropped down from the north and finally ended the unseasonably hot weather — with associated south winds — that have been holding the butterflies back,” wrote Elizabeth Howard, founder of Journey North, in last week’s Thursday migration newsletter. Howard cited peak flights along the ridges of the Appalachian Mountains over the weekend as “the first strong pulse in the Eastern Flyway.”
There’s a new Monarch Butterfly Champion City in the Lone Star State: McAllen.
For the past 10 months, San Antonio ranked as the only National Wildlife Federation (NWF) Monarch Butterfly Champion City. San Antonio Mayor Taylor signed the NWF’s Mayor’s Monarch Pledge last December, committing to all 24 action items recommended in the national campaign to encourage mayors and local governments to increase Monarch butterfly and pollinator habitat.
But that unique status is now behind us. Last week, McAllen Mayor Jim Darling, citing San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor as “an inspiration,” became the second mayor in the country to step up to the plate and make pollinators a hometown priority.
Darling made the announcement at the September McAllen City Commission Meeting. Darling also declared Sept. 12 “Mayor’s Monarch Pledge Day in the City of McAllen.”
“Mayor Darling has made a major commitment to help save this iconic, declining species in a city that sits right in the middle of the Monarch butterflies’ migratory flyway,” said Patrick Fitzgerald, National Wildlife Federation senior director of community wildlife, in response to the news.
The Lower Rio Grande Valley’s McAllen-Edinburg-Mission triangle has long been a place with much wildlife diversity due to its location at the intersection of myriad ecosystems that host more than 300 species of butterflies and 520 species of birds.
Bird- and butterfly-viewing destinations such as Quinta Mazatlan in McAllen, the National Butterfly Center, the annual Texas Butterfly Festival in Mission, and the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge in Hidalgo County draw nature lovers from all over. The City of McAllen attributes an annual $460 million in eco-tourism to its “natural beauty and sunny and temperate year-round climate,” according to a press release.
San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor welcomed McAllen to the elite club of NWF Monarch Champion Cites.
“Like us, McAllen obviously understands the significance of helping protect and promote our State Insect,” Taylor said. “I’d like to issue a challenge for all other mayors in Texas to sign the pledge and help make us the first Monarch Champion State in the U.S.”
In an email exchange, Darling gave special credit to Colleen Hook, director of Quinta Mazatlan, a McAllen wildlife sanctuary that promotes knowledge about birds, plants, and environmental stewardship in South Texas, for “leading the effort for the Mayor.” Hook became aware of the challenge through press coverage of San Antonio’s pledge, the Mayor’s office stated via email.
“We have a big responsibility in South Texas to enhance the migratory ‘Texas Funnel’ used by butterflies, birds and many other creatures of the land,” said Hook.
Hook refers to the remarkable “Texas funnel,”the passage through which Monarch butterflies migrate coming and going each spring and fall over multiple generations, moving from Mexico to Canada and back before settling into their roosts for the winter in the mountainous forests west of Mexico City.
“We welcome anybody else trying to help Monarchs,” said North American Butterfly Association President Jeffrey Glassberg, who also is founder of the National Butterfly Center (NBC) in Mission. The NBC was recently featured in a Texas Monthly article titled “Mission’s Quest to Become the Butterfly Capital of the World.”
Status as a Monarch Butterfly Champion City doesn’t come easy. Municipalities must agree to adopt all 24 specific actions suggested by the NWF to support the declining Monarch butterfly migration and other pollinator habitat.
Participation in the pledge requires at a minimum for Mayors to execute three of the 24 items; to be in the “leadership circle” they must commit to eight; to become a Monarch Champion, they must do all 24. Actions range from citizen science projects and installing a pollinator garden at City Hall or another highly visible public space, to hosting a butterfly festival and changing landscape ordinances and city mowing schedules.
Since the Mayor’s Monarch Pledge was launched in September of last year, 190 entities across North America have committed to create habitat and encourage their citizens to do the same.
In recent years, the Monarch butterfly migration has declined dramatically– by 80% from the 21-year average across North America. Scientists attribute the decline to habitat loss, the increase in genetically modified crops in their primary breeding zone in the Midwest, increased pesticide use, illegal logging in Mexico, and climate change.
In August of 2014, several organizations submitted a petition to list the Monarch butterfly as a “threatened” species under the Endangered Species Act. The petition is currently under review. In May of 2015, President Obama announced a National Pollinator Strategy that addressed not only the decline of Monarch butterflies, but the demise of bees. The 58-page document also committed the federal government to restore seven million acres of pollinator habitat over the next five years, with a special focus on the IH-35 corridor.
Conditions were ideal along the Llano River last weekend with sprays of late season nectar plants poised for the arrival of Monarch butterflies in what is predicted to be a down year for their migration.
Sprays of Goldenrod, Frostweed, Swamp milkweed and other late bloomers graced the river banks and surrounding watershed while migration forecasters called for a setback.
On March 8, a freak spring ice storm brought ice, snow and dramatic winds to the Oyamel forest where the Monarchs roost each winter. Just as they were heading north to lay the first generation of eggs in Texas, the storm destroyed 135 acres of forest and killed an estimated 6.2 million butterflies – about 7.4% of the 84 million roosting at that particular preserve, Mexico’s Attorney General for Environmental Protection Alejandro Del Mazo recently told the Associated Press.
The squall set the 2016 season off to a bad start and will likely result in a setback to the threefold population increase the Monarchs enjoyed last year, scientists suggest.
In the past year, here and elsewhere, the migrating orange-and-black insects have never enjoyed more fame and fortune, as government and educational institutions have increased pollinator habitat, earmarked millions for research on milkweed – the insects’ host plant – and raised public awareness of Monarchs and other pollinators to unprecedented heights.
“I know how much we all look forward to seeing the majestic Monarchs every year, and it saddens me to think that their population has been impacted so dramatically by the ice storm in Mexico,” said Mayor Ivy Taylor, who signed the NWF’s Mayor’s Monarch Pledge on Dec. 9 last year. “However, we will keep working to provide them with a safe haven here in San Antonio.”
Chip Taylor, Ph.D., founder of Monarch Watch, predicted in his annual summer Monarch Population Status blog post that 2016 would likely be comparable to 2014. The last three years have been closely monitored by Monarch aficionados: In 2013, the population dropped to 33.5 million butterflies, the lowest since records have been kept; in 2014, it increased to 56.5 million; and last year 200.5 million butterflies were recorded.
In 2015, President Obama released a National Pollinator Strategy that set out to increase the Monarch population to 225 million – the historic 20-year average.
The iconic insects make one of the most remarkable annual migrations on the planet, traveling up to 2,800 miles from Mexico through the United States to Canada and back over multiple generations.
Their journey starts in March, where they spend the winter in the Oyamel fir forests. After a cue from the sun, they head to Texas where they lay their first generation of eggs on milkweed plants – the only plant they use to breed. Those eggs hatch into caterpillars who then grow into butterflies that continue the cycle over the summer, with fourth or fifth generation butterflies returning to Mexico in the fall to overwinter, despite never having been to the specific roosting site where their ancestors launched the journey. The following spring, those butterflies begin the cycle anew.
Glum predictions aside, conditions could not be more perfect in Texas to welcome the migrating butterflies this fall.
Each year around Labor Day we see the first trickle of Monarchs, or what’s called the ‘pre-migration migration’ – a vanguard of reproductive Monarch butterflies that lay eggs which will hatch and become the final generation of migrating adults.
Last weekend, half a dozen adult Monarch butterflies showed up right on cue along the Llano River in the Texas Hill Country. Even more interesting, dozens of caterpillars and eggs were spotted on the Swamp milkweed, Asclepias incarnata, a Monarch butterfly host plant, and suggested that Monarchs had been passing through in the preceding weeks. Three late stage caterpillars literally hung out on the Llano, preparing to bust their stripes and go chrysalis.
Goldenrod, Purple mistflower, White boneset, Snow-on-the-prairie, Frostweed–all late season nectar plants that the butterflies use as fuel stops, exhibited their showy sprays along the Llano River and elsewhere in the Texas Hill Country over Labor Day weekend. Bees, wasps, moths, beetles, and aphids were seen in large numbers, following a series of rain events that followed a scorching South Texas summer.
A quick survey of local Monarch Watchers had few sightings to report.
“Nothing to report in Comfort yet,” said Monarch Watch Education Outreach Specialist Cathy Downs. Monarch Larvae Monitoring Project volunteer Mary Kennedy said the same thing. Master Naturalist Drake White, who manages the Phil Hardberger Park butterfly garden and runs the Nectar Bar, a Facebook page devoted to helping people raise butterflies, reported two Monarch sightings. Local botanist and landscaper Charles Bartlett of Greenhaven Industries reported seeing one Monarch locally.
Sightings throughout the spring and summer have been slim, with the freak sleet storm taking most of the blame for the Monarchs’ absence. Read more here.
To determine peak migration time for your area, consult the Monarch Watch website or Journey North. In San Antonio, at 29 degrees latitude, we’re looking at seeing the butterflies sometime in late October.
Monarch butterflies are heading our way, but their numbers are likely to be down this year. Climate change–combined with habitat loss and other threats–dealt a heavy blow to the population, which enjoyed a celebrated threefold increase last fall.
The weekend of March 8-9 proved to be a deadly setback for Monarchs. Just as they were heading to Texas from their winter roosts in Michoacán to create the first generation of 2016, a freak ice storm hit the forest where they overwinter. The frigid wind and weather killed an estimated 6.2 million butterflies–about 7.4 percent of the 84 million roosting there, Mexico’s attorney general for environmental protection Alejandro Del Mazo told the Associated Press this week.
Even worse, the storm destroyed 133 acres of the Oyamel fir forest which serves as the Monarchs’ winter home as well as habitat to hundreds of species of birds, mammals, vascular plants and mushrooms. That lost canopy will take years, perhaps decades, to recover. And its service as a protective, insulating blanket for the Monarchs and other wildlife may be gone forever.
The iconic insects make one of the most remarkable annual migrations on the planet, traveling up to 2,800 miles from Mexico through the United States to Canada and back over multiple generations.
Their journey starts in March where they spend the winter in the Oyamel fir forests. After a cue from the sun, they head to Texas where they lay their first generation of eggs on milkweed plants—the only plant they use to breed. Those eggs hatch into caterpillars who grow into butterflies that continue the cycle over the summer, with fourth or fifth generation butterflies returning to Mexico in the fall to overwinter–having never been to the specific roosting site where their ancestors launched the journey. The following spring, those butterflies begin the cycle anew.
According to a brief released by the World Wildlife Fund on August 23, the protected forest lost to the March sleet storm was four times that destroyed by illegal logging last year. Here’s the breakdown: of the 179 acres of forest lost in the last year in the core zone of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, 29.5 acres were destroyed by illegal logging, 133 acres by wind-fallen trees during the storm, and 16 acres by drought.
Experts agree that the ice storm got the season off to a bad start. Those of us who follow Monarchs noticed far fewer this spring, as the depleted population made its way north. We hoped they would recover in the summer breeding grounds.
“Normally I collect eggs in the spring and I was down about 65% percent over seasons’ past,” said Cathy Downs, Education Outreach specialist for Monarch Watch, the University of Kansas at Lawrence-based organization that runs the citizen science tagging program that tracks the migrating butterflies. Downs operates out of Comfort, Texas, just outside San Antonio. “I would definitely say this was a really, really down spring.”
Further up the migratory path, social media posts from the summer breeding grounds bemoaned the general lack of Monarch butterflies.
“I only saw one Monarch a week ago up at Illinois Beach State Park, while we were walking the dunes, clearing them of white sweet clover,” Kathleen Garness of Forest Park, Illinois wrote to the DPLEX list June 20, an email list that reaches about 800 Monarch butterfly enthusiasts, scientists and citizen scientists.
Tony Kowall of Park Ridge, Illinois, agreed. “We really miss seeing and raising the Monarchs…. It is quite distressing to think how badly the population must of have hit with the storm earlier this year. Last year we raised 200 Monarchs.”
And this from Fred Kaluza in Detroit on the same email string: “Countryside looks like late July. Lots of uneaten milkweed. No Monarchs seen.”
Teresa Bailey, who lives north of Kansas City, Missouri, posted June 14 on Facebook: “I still haven’t seen any Monarch butterflies yet. My common milkweed has grown six feet tall. Still no butterflies. I’m concerned. They should have been here a while ago.”
Everyone’s worst suspicions were confirmed when Dr. Chip Taylor, founder of Monarch Watch, issued his annual summer Monarch population status bulletin.
“All the data to this point in time suggest that this year will be a repeat of 2014 with a significant decline in the migration and the overwintering numbers,” wrote Taylor in July, citing below normal first-of-season sightings and the ice storm. “We will never have a comprehensive assessment of the impact of this weather event but it does appear to have been significant,” wrote Taylor, noting that some scientists were suggesting 50% of Monarchs had perished in the storm.
Despite that sad turnaround from a tripling of the population last fall, the migration is underway. “Sightings of southbound Monarchs, intense nectaring, and the first overnight roosts are being reported,” read the headline in this week’s bulletin by Journey North, which tracks Monarch butterflies and other migrating creatures.
With all the press Monarch butterflies have been getting this year, we have never been better prepared to welcome them as they move through our landscapes and gardens. In the past 18 months, millions of dollars in research has been earmarked for mIlkweed and nectar plant restoration programs, Monarch and pollinator education efforts, and general awareness of the important role Monarchs and other pollinators play in our ecosystem food web. Awareness across the Americas has never been higher.
That said, climate change will have the last word on how many Monarch butterflies will make the trip this year.
Want to be sure to see Monarchs this fall? Join us October 22 during peak Monarch migration week in San Antoino at the Monarch Butterfly and Pollinator Festival at the Pearl. Events are FREE.
Mark your calendars, butterfly and pollinator fans. San Antonio’s Monarch Butterfly and Pollinator Festival at Pearl will take place October 20 – 22 this fall during peak Monarch butterfly migration week. Join us for three fun days of events to celebrate the majesty and magic of Monarch butterflies and other pollinators.Thursday, Oct. 20th, 6 PM – 8 PM: Buen Viaje, Mariposa Monarca! at the Instituto Cultural Mexicano in HemisFair Park. FREE ADMISSION. Mexican artist Ignacio Arcas presents “Buen Viaje, Mariposa Monarca!,” a nature photography exhibit of Monarchs’ roosting sites in Michoacán, Mexico. Arcas will be present to discuss his artwork, and Mexican forester and symposium panelist Dr. Cuauhtémoc Saenz Romero from Michoacán will join us to chat with the audience about the Monarch migration.
Textile designer Pineda-Covalín will present a collection of their Monarch butterfly inspired wares, and an installation by artist David J. Romero replicating the Monarch butterfly roosting sites will welcome guests to the Instituto.
Sponsored by the Instituto Cultural Mexicano and Texas Butterfly Ranch
Friday, October 21st, 6 PM – 8 PM: Climate Change and the Monarch Butterfly Migration Symposium at the Pearl Studio. $10; LIMITED SEATING. Tickets are now on sale here.
Dan Goodgame, VP of Corporate Communications for Rackspace, will moderate a timely discussion with the distinguished panelists listed below.
Dr. Cuauhtémoc Saenz Romero, a forester from Michoacán, Mexico, who proposes moving the Monarchs’ roosting sites higher up the mountain to save them from the impacts of climate change.
Catalina Trail “discovered” the Monarch roosting sites in Michoacán, Mexico after years of searching as a citizen scientist. Trail, from Morelia, graced the cover of National Geographic Magazine in 1976 as a 25-year-old mexicana. She and her then husband Kenneth Brugger led scientists to the site where the Monarchs roost, and the news rocked the butterfly world. She currently lives in Austin.
UPDATE: Catalina Trail will not be able to attend due to health matters. Monika Maeckle, founder of the Texas Butterfly Ranch, will take her place as a panelist at the symposium.
Dr. Katharine Hayhoe is an evangelical Christian, climate change expert, and the director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University in Lubbock. She holds a Ph.D in atmospheric science and coauthored the book A Climate for Change: Global Warming Facts for Faith-Based Decisions with her husband, Andrew Farley.
Cathy Downs, a conservation specialist for Monarch Watch based in Comfort, Texas, teaches hundreds of children and adults each year about the magic and science of the Monarch butterfly migration.
Dan Goodgame, moderator, is vice-president for executive communications at Rackspace, a global leader in cloud computing. A Pulitzer Prize finalist and best-selling author, Goodgame describes himself as a “recovering journalist.” He worked as a top editor at TIME and FORTUNE, a White House correspondent, and a foreign correspondent in the Middle East and Europe.
Sponsored by the Pearl, Trinity University, HEB, San Antonio River Authority, Rivard Report, Hispanic Chamber and Texas Butterfly Ranch.
Join us as we honor Monarchs and other pollinators everywhere. The People for Pollinators Parade, lead by San Antonio’s Pedaling Pollinators and Earn-A-Bike Coop, kicks off the festivities at 9:30 AM with custom built bikes that resemble butterflies. COSTUMES ENCOURAGED.
Two Monarch butterfly releases will be held at 10:30AM and 12PM. Throughout the event, butterfly docents will hold demonstrations on How and Why to Tag a Monarch Butterfly.
The Pearl Farmer’s Market will include Monarch- and pollinator-themed food and drinks, Monarch Jeopardy, native plant sales and more.
Sponsored by the Pearl, Trinity University, HEB, San Antonio River Authority, Rivard Report, Hispanic Chamber and Texas Butterfly Ranch
Special thanks to our sponsors and to Mayor Ivy Taylor for signing the National Wildlife Federation Mayor’s Monarch Pledge.
SPONSORSHIPS are still available. Check back here for schedules and updates.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this post incorrectly stated that Dr. Saenz Romero was proposing moving the forest 2,000 feet higher in elevation because climate change suggested the forest would not survive within 20 years.
Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar announced Tuesday that Texas A&M University and Sam Houston State University will share about $500,000 in research funding to study the Monarch butterfly. That brings the total earmarked for researching America’s favorite
migrating insect by the Comptroller’s office to more than $800,000 in the Lone Star State, just since last June.
Texas A&M will receive $299,998 to evaluate the Monarch’s population status in Texas–specifically, the species’ lifecycle, migratory habits and the possible existence of overwintering populations. Dr. Robert Coulson, Entomologist and Director of the Knowledge Engineering Laboratory at A & M, will oversee the research, which he said will fuel the species status assessment required by US Fish and Wildlife as it gauges whether or not the Monarch should be listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Sam Houston State will receive $207,510 to research disease and pests that threaten the butterfly. Dr. Jerry Cook, Professor & Associate VicePresident for Research Entomology, will oversee the study.
Grant recipients submitted projects for consideration in response to a Request for Proposals (RFP) issued by the Comptroller’s office in February.
“Funding decisions were made based on recommendations by a non-biased evaluation committee with respect to the criteria detailed in the RFP,” a spokesperson for the Comptroller’s office said via email. After reviewing recommendations, the Comptroller’s office decided to contract with the two universities. Names of committee members were not made public.
The upcoming studies hope to build on research done by previous Comptroller’s office grant recipients.
Last June, the University of Texas at San Antonio received $300K to survey milkweeds across the state. In March of this year, Texas A&M – Commerce was awarded $10,141.04 to conduct a pilot study on how fire ants effect the Monarch life cycle.
All the attention is motivated by an August 2014 petition to list the Monarch butterfly as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
In Texas, the State Comptroller’s office oversees the Interagency Task Force on Economic Growth and Endangered Species. The Task Force works with landowners, industries, local communities and institutions to assess the economic impact of proposed ESA species listings in Texas. Research surrounding the ramifications of ESA listings are funded by annual $5 million appropriations approved by the Texas Legislature.
“If the butterfly is listed, many industries important to our state’s economy could be affected, from agriculture to land development to energy production,” said Hegar in a press release. “This crucial research will identify best practices for the voluntary protection of the species on private lands.”
The news comes on the heels of a court settlement also announced on July 5 that the USFWS, which rules on all endangered species listings, was awarded three more years to determine whether or not the Monarch butterfly should be listed. USFWS must issue a decision by June 30, 2019, as well as pay the legal bills of the Center for Biological Diversity and Center for Food Safety, the two environmental groups that launched the ESA petition in August 2014.
While USFWS was aware the Texas Comptrollers’ office was working to incorporate more universities into the Monarch research grant cycles, a spokesperson said the timing of the announcements was a coincedence. The recent ruling suggests that at least for the next three years, continued research grants will be focused on Monarch butterflies.
“We now know Fish and Wildlife Service will be making its decision whether or not to list the Monarch butterfly under the Endangered Species Act by June of 2019,” said Dr. Robert Gulley, director of economic growth and endangered species management for the Comptroller’s office. “We believe the research the Comptroller’s office has commissioned, which includes looking at the fifth generation of Monarchs in Texas and the fall migration, will be important in ensuring good science is available when that decision is made.”
A Washington DC Court yesterday awarded the US Fish and Wildlife Service three more years to evaluate whether or not the Monarch butterfly should be listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act in a settlement between the government agency and the Center for Food Safety (CFS) and the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD).
The settlement also called for reimbursement of reasonable attorneys’ fees for the two environmental groups who initiated the lawsuit.
In August of 2014, CFS, CBD, the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, and Dr. Lincoln Brower petitioned the Service to list the Monarch butterfly as a “threatened.” On Dec. 31, 2014, USFWS published a 90-day finding that listing the Monarch might be warranted, and initiated a status review of the species. The Service then failed to rule on the petition by the statutory 12-month deadline.
As a result, in March 2016, CBD and CSF filed a complaint against the Service. Yesterday’s settlement is the Court’s answer to that complaint.
The CBD saw the three-year extension as a positive development.
“In the big picture of slow-cogged bureaucracy, a wait of three years is, relatively speaking, a good outcome,” said Tierra Curry, senior scientist for CBD, adding that many species have had to wait decades for a protection decision.
Curry cited threats to the Monarch: milkweed loss, logging in Mexico, the proposed mine in the Monarch Biosphere Reserve, and high mortality and habitat damage caused by a freak winter storm in March that swept through the reserve just as many Monarchs were taking flight on their journey north.
“I would like to see them gain protection sooner rather than later,” she said.
USFWS viewed the settlement as a pragmatic move.
“The settlement provides the least costly alternative to a court case the Service would have had no grounds to contest,” read a statement issued by USFWS spokesperson. “It commits the Service to submit to the Federal Register a 12-month finding for the Monarch butterfly by June 30, 2019, thereby providing a realistic timeframe for the Service to evaluate carefully whether this species warrants protection under the ESA.”
The USFWS statement also noted that the settlement “does not predetermine the Service’s decision, which must be based solely on what the best available science prescribes.”