Monarch Migration Update: Lone “Cat” on Llano, Butterfly Cloud Spotted on Radar

No woman is an island, but this caterpillar had his own—right in the middle of the Llano River.
A quick kayak tour on Friday revealed another first in my eight years of tagging and monitoring Monarch butterflies: a fifth instar Monarch butterfly caterpillar clinging to a single milkweed stalk in the middle of the Llano.

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I had noticed this milkweed plant a week ago. How inspiring that a single, solitary Asclepias incarnata seed found its way to the silt surrounding one of the many limestone bedded “Chigger Islands” that dot our stretch of river.  A result of seed balls thrown last Fall?  Maybe–or Mother Nature’s grand plan.
It laid down roots, put out stalks, chutes and flowers, and attracted at least one female Monarch butterfly to grace its leaves with eggs. I recall gathering at least one egg from here on September 14.
But obviously I missed this guy–or was his egg laid later? Maybe he had just hatched and tucked himself into the petals of the pink flowers when I examined the plant last week.  In any case, eight days later, he’s ready to bust his stripes and go chrysalis at any moment. After two days of more milkweed in the well-fed, safe confines of a yogurt container-turned caterpillar cage in San Antonio, he formed a chrysalis. In another seven – 10 days, he’ll hatch and we’ll tag and release this Monarch so he/she can join the migration and head to Mexico.
The migration continues, with reports from Ontario and points south suggesting the rebound we hoped for will arrive in about two weeks. The latest report from Journey North has Monarchs skipping down the Atlantic coast.
Monarchs on  Atlantic coast via Journey North
Monarchs cling to pine trees to avoid winds along the Atlantic coast. Photo by Barbara Becker via Journey North
“The Atlantic Ocean is directing the migration now in the east,” wrote Journey North founder Elizabeth Howard in her report September 25.  “Monarchs hug the coast as they travel southward, trying to avoid the winds that can carry them out to sea.”
Dr. Chip Taylor, founder of Monarch Watch relayed to the DPLEX list, an old style list-serv that reaches hundreds of butterfly enthusiasts, academics and citizen scientists, that the peak had hit Lawrence, Kansas, where the Monarch Watch citizen scientist program is based.
“The numbers seen are certainly greater than observed during the last two migrations,” wrote Dr. Taylor, referencing good numbers of Monarchs for September 25-28 in Lawrence.  “This is another late migration,” he added.
“The leading edge of the migration usually reaches here between the 9-11th of September with an estimated peak on the 23rd. It’s hard to say but, it’s probable that the peak occurred yesterday – the 27th,”  he said.
In contrast, the Associated Press reported the first migrating Monarch butterflies arrived in the northern border state of Coahuila, earlier than usual.   The report characterized the early arrivals as “a tentative sign of hope” for the migration, given the historic drop in their numbers last year.
Bee on Frostweed
Bees were out in abundance this weekend, gathering pollen on Frostweed. Only a handful of Monarchs flying. Photo by Monika Maeckle
Luis Fueyo, head of Mexico’s nature reserves, told the reporter that the first butterflies have been seen entering Mexico earlier than usual. “…This premature presence could be the prelude to an increase in the migration,” he was quoted as saying. Usually the first arrivals don’t get to Mexico until October.
Here in the “Texas Funnel,” we saw a handful of Monarchs flying in the Texas Hill Country this weekend. Most appeared to be laying eggs and did not exhibit directional flight. Frostweed was the big draw, not only for Monarchs but other pollinators, especially bees.
Butterfly cloud in St. Louis
Butterfly cloud? Ya think? That’s what the National Weather Service of St. Louis said this week. Courtesy photo
In other news, a strange cloud spotted via radar above the city of St. Louis last week by the National Weather Service was identified as a Monarch butterfly mass, making its migratory trek south. “Sometimes our radars pick up more than precipitation,” the Facebook post read, provoking a social media flutter. The “butterfly cloud” even looked obtusely to be in the shape of a butterfly—well, if you used your imagination.

NOTE:  Have you taken our Milkweed Poll?  Please do. Three questions, only takes a minute.  GRACIAS!  Please do it now, here’s the link.

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6 Responses

  1. Susan Salzman
    | Reply

    Monica, I used to live at 839 Lightstone Dr in the Stone Oak area of San Antonio. There is a wider than usual easement between my house and the house on the corner. The funnel came through that easement on more than one year. The Monarchs didn’t even go around the other sides of the houses. It went very specifically between the 2 houses. I haven’t lived in that house for 8 years. I hope they still fly there. When I was building out there, I came across a single antelope horn plant in that easement. I didn’t know what it was at the time or it’s significance. Unfortunately, the builder scraped that part of the lot before I could protect the native plants. There must have been more plants before all of the building started. Maybe you can notify the present owner. There would be plenty of room to try to do some tagging.

    • Monika Maeckle
      | Reply

      Might have to check that out! Thanks for writing.– MM

  2. Raymond Brassard
    | Reply

    Considerably more Monarchs this year. Last year was extremely dry and this year was wet and cooler. Began noticing them mid-summer and saw many this month (September). Queensborough is in southeast central Ontario, right on the edge of the Canadian Shield. I assume they’re packing their bags for wintering in the south.

    • Monika Maeckle
      | Reply

      Great news, Ray! Thanks for writing. — MM

  3. Sandy Webb
    | Reply

    Here in Central Florida, we have had the rainiest summer in ten years, easily. September is the rainiest on RECORD, I think. But the rain will continue. In addition, the county is spraying for mosquitoes, since there have been a number of terrible diseases found here associated with them. West Nile Virus, and Chickengunya here in Central Florida, and Dengue Fever in South Florida have been discovered in people, and in sentinel chickens, so the spraying will continue. Wasps are doing well, but not bees.
    I have seen fewer butterflies of all types this summer than ever before, but FANN (Florida Association of Native Nurseries) and FNPS (Florida Native Plant Society [with associated county chapters], are on board with the Asclepias varieties and other varieties of native nectar and host plants.
    We are trying our best to educate and inform everyone, since Monarchs are a valid indicator species. Other butterflies bring in people who are interested in butterfly gardens. Doug Tallamy has a very good book out called “Bringing Nature Home”. Although it pertains mostly to the NE US, plants run in families, and we can extrapolate to our areas. I highly recommend the book and him as a speaker. He is with the U of Delaware.

  4. Ruth Henriquez
    | Reply

    Wow — the image of the butterfly cloud is amazing. Thanks for posting it.

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