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  • Monarch Migration Update: April 29, 1997

    "We were outside at recess when the children noticed a monarch butterfly. What excitement it caused!!!," reported Margaret Mace School of North Wildwood, NJ. In fact, six monarchs were spotted in New Jersey in the last week. Here are the dates and locations of monarchs reported since our April 22nd update:

    How to REPORT a Monarch Sighting:
    When you see your FIRST monarch this spring, let us know! On the left-hand side of this page you'll see an owl button. Simply press the button and a FIELD DATA FORM will appear. If you have any trouble using this system, send a message to our feedback form We'd be happy to help you!

    Worn and Tattered, Monarchs From Mexico Reach the End of their Journey
    It has been 8 months since the monarchs that flew to Mexico emerged with fresh wings from their chrysalises. By this time, most of these monarchs have probably died. (They are thought to live about 4-6 weeks after they enter the reproductive state in Mexico in March.) How far north do monarchs from Mexico travel? Perhaps a few final monarchs from Mexico are still being seen, as indicated by the worn condition of their winds and their faded color. When you see a monarch, look carefully at the condition of its wings!! Are they faded and tattered? Watch for the bright orange color and fresh wings of a monarch of the first spring generation.

    Karen Oberhauser
    Just Think
    The next generation of monarchs--your monarchs, if you live in the north--are probably munching on milkweed right now, somewhere to the south. Have you ever wondered how adult monarchs find milkweed? After all, how long would it take you to find the nearest milkweed plant? Here are recent observations from the field:

    April 20
    "We have noticed only one monarch in the area. We were amazed to see 30-50 larvae on each of two plants, and many eggs as well."
    Mark Barton, Gainsville, Georgia

    April 20
    "Sprouts of milkweed poked 3 inches out of the ground in my garden. I was amazed to see that all four milkweed clumps were covered with Monarch eggs. This means that, in the couple of days that those milkweed sprouts have been there, Monarchs found them in an urban setting and found the right place to deposit eggs. In searching the countryside today where I normally have found milkweed I found no signs of milkweed. Yet the few sprouts appearing in my urban garden have been found."
    Richard Stringer

    April 28
    "Every milkweed plant I have has eggs on it. Folks down east near Wilmington, N.C. have plants covered with caterpillars already. Lots of concern from teachers about there not being enough food plant to allow caterpillars to survive."
    Mike Dunn, N.C. Museum of Natural History

    Monarch Biologist Comments on Spring Migration Pattern

    "This is the fourth year in which the Journey North program has recorded more rapid recolonization of the eastern states than of the central Midwest. This is a very interesting pattern. If we assume that the pattern is real, and not an artifact of the distribution of observers or schools connected to the internet, then, the question is:

    "What is the basis, or underlying cause(s), for this pattern?

    "I have always assumed that this pattern reflected more favorable spring conditions for migration in the SE and E than in the Midwest, where the jet stream is likely to linger or to come and go as it has this spring. But, is this correct? This ad hoc hypothesis should be tested. Sounds like a student project to me. And, it shouldn't be difficult. There are lots of weather data on the net and the US Weather Bureau has printed summaries of weather patterns that can be found in most University libraries." Dr. Chip Taylor
    Monarch Watch
    Phone:1 (888) TAGGING

    Sightings as of April 15

    We recently asked you to consider the same question. Challenge Question # 10 asked, "Why do you think the monarch sightings have occurred only in the southern and eastern portions of the United States?"

    Students at Kanawha School in Davisville, West Virginia made the following analysis:

    "Dear Journey North,

    "We think that we have some answers to Challenge Question #10. We think that monarch butterflies migrate to eastern and southern parts of the United States for a few reasons.

    • There are deserts and the Rocky Mountains in the western part of the United States. There would be very little amounts of water and not many trees for shelter and not many flowers for food. Maybe there are no milkweed plants either.
    • They wouldn't go straight north now because it is too cold to survive. Some kids are mapping the tulips and tulips aren't there either, so then there probably wouldn't be any other flowers for the nectar for food.
    • The wind and weather mostly go east. The butterflies don't want to fight the wind by flying against the wind. So they can keep their energy if they fly the way that the wind is going.

    Third grade class at Kanawha School in Davisville, West Virginia"

    These maps show the dates and places tulips have emerged and bloomed this spring between February and April. Notice how much earlier vegetation developed along the East Coast than it did in the Midwest, just as the students mentioned above. Here are some questions to consider:
    February 14 March 14 April 11

    • Do monarchs repopulate the Northeast states earlier because the vegetation is ready earlier?
    • Do the butterflies follow the vegetation as it develops?
    • Do you think monarchs somehow know to travel northeast instead of due north? (Keep in mind that the Northeast is clearly a longer distance from Mexico. Measure the difference between a Midwest sighting and Northeast sighting for comparison.)
    • Do monarchs do this every year?
    • Do monarchs appear to arrive before or after tulips emerge? Before or after they bloom? (Remember: Monarchs do not drink nectar from tulips!! You can plant a butterfly garden with the proper flowers for monarchs this spring.)
    • Monarchs and hummingbirds both drink nectar. How do their migrations compare? (Link to Hummingbird Migration Data)
    • What other spring events occur where you live at the same time the monarchs arrive? For example, read Cynthia Ripley's (smamt020@llwsbe.wsbe.org) comments one day before her daughter spotted her first monarch in Smithfield, RI.
    "The forsythia is flowering and it seems that I remember that being a signal for last year's first arrival..."
    The Next Monarch Butterfly Migration Update Will be Posted on May 8, 1997.