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Monarch Migration Update: September 20, 2000

Today's Report Includes:

Highlights Along the Migration Trail

First Signs of Migration in the East
At last, the first signs of migration are being reported from the East!

09/16/00 Kittery, ME (43.05 N, -70.44 W)
"Finally, after going to Fort Foster in Kittery Maine every other day for several weeks, monarchs finally began to arrive on 9/16/00. The grounds keeper stated that on 9/17/00 there was a constant presence of the monarchs, one or two passing him every couple of minutes. Gillian Cusack (

09/15/00 Woodbridge, NJ (40.55 N, -74.29 W)
"Well it seems like we are finally getting some action on the migrating monarchs. Went out after yesterday's posting and saw quite a bit of movement through our area. Apparently, when the front went through this opened the doors for the migrating monarchs. Talked to others who are tagging in Sewaren (2 miles east) and they also report many going through their area. Got to tag about 15. Jim Kupcho (MONARCHS NJ)." James Kupcho (

Why So Few Monarchs?
The most noteworthy news during the last week, however, were continued reports that monarchs seem very scarce there this year. From several Great Lakes States and the province of Ontario, all the way to the Atlantic Coast came comments like these:

09/18/00 Dummerston, VT (43.04 N, -72.53 W)
Monarch sightings have been very rare this summer. I saw one lone monarch today and that's about the second or third one this month." (

09/16/00 Yonkers NY (40.95 N, -73.88 W)

"On September 15, 16 and 17, monarchs were observed migrating south along the Hudson River flyway in Lenoir Nature Preserve in Yonkers, NY. The totals for each day were less than 10 monarchs a day, compared to totals of 120 to 150 on the same days the year before." (

9/18/00 Toledo, OH (41.39 N, -83.33 W)

"Our migration is the poorest I've ever seen in all the years I've been tagging. I'm out most every day when it's not raining and I should have tagged 1000-2000 by now but, alas, I just passed the 100 mark yesterday." Doris Stifel (

Challenge Question #4
"As a class, how many possible factors can you list that could contribute to the low numbers of monarchs being sighted this fall? (Think about ALL the factors, during the summer breeding season as well as the fall migration season.Then send us your list!)

(To respond to this question, please follow the instructions below.)

A Closer Look: Analyzing Fall Migration Data from Cape May (1992-2000 )
Monarch Monitoring Project's Dick Walton
With all the questions and concerns about the size of monarch population, let's take a closer look. The Monarch Monitoring Project (MMP) in Cape May, NJ has been counting migrating monarchs at Cape May every fall for 9 years. Their data may indicate how this year's monarch population compares in size to those observed in previous years. "Monarch numbers continue to be low along the mid-Atlantic coast," Director Dick Walton reported last Friday, September 15th. In fact, so far this fall Mr. Walton and colleagues report fewer than 3 monarchs per hour, on average! The chart below shows you how this compares to previous years.
Mr. Walton has offered to share their data with you every week this fall, so you can monitor the numbers of monarchs moving through one location, and draw your own conclusions. What do you think so far?

Cape May, NJ
Challenge Question #5
"Do you think the data that have been collected so far at Cape May show that there are fewer monarchs this fall than usual? Why or why not?" Include specific examples from the data to support your answer. (See data below.)

(To respond to this question, please follow the instructions below.)

Strong Migration Continues Through Midwest
Meanwhile, migration through the Midwest continues. The leading edge now seems to be in entering into Kansas and Oklahoma:

How Many Monarchs in the Alfalfa Field? Discussion of Challenge Question #3
Challenge Question #3 asked, "How many monarchs do you estimate were nectaring in this single 40 acre alfalfa field?"

Mrs. Kloewer's students in Nebraska were busy last week (all but the football players, they say!) Here's how the math wizards in the 4th Period Science Class handled this question:

"We think there are 108, 900 butterflies in the 40 acre alfalfa field. We figured there were 4 butterflies every 64 sq. feet. An acre is 43,560 sq ft. (We got that from "Ask Jeeves.") Then we multiplied that by the 40 acres and got 1,742, 400 sq ft in the field. Next we divided by 64 to get the "butterfly units" and got 27, 225 butterfly units. We took that times the 4 butterflies every 64 sq. ft (the butterfly unit) and got 108, 900 butterflies. How did we do?"

You did so well! However, one small step caused you to be off by 81,675 butterflies! Rather than 4 butterflies every 64 square feet, as you assumed, there was actually only one butterfly. Thus, the total number of butterflies in the alfalfa field is 27, 225 butterflies. (And you can see that number in your discussion above!)

Here are the steps we took:
  • Using graph paper, we marked off one butterfly every 8 feet.
  • Because there are 8 feet between each butterfly, each butterfly uses 64 units (or "square feet") of space. In other words, there is only one butterfly for every 64 square feet.
  • We scanned our graph paper to show you, so you can see the spacing between butterflies, and actually count the 64 units (or "square feet") of space surrounding each butterfly.

Migration is Not for Babies
Every now and then, we receive migration reports from observers who say they have sighted baby monarchs migrating. These observations are sent from people who are new to Journey North, and who are just beginning to learn about monarch biology. Their comments bring a challenging question to mind:

Challenge Question #6
"How would you explain to a person who's new to tracking monarch migration why it's impossible to see a baby monarch? (Hint: Include a description of the monarch life cycle in your answer.)

(To respond to this question, please follow the instructions below.)

Reminder: EARLY Symbolic Migration Deadline--October 2nd
Only 12 more butterfly-making days before the deadline. Don't be late! Butterflies received after the postmarked deadline cannot migrate!

How to Make an Ambassador Butterfly
Looking for a way to express yourself? Make an Ambassador Butterfly that can take your message of respectful hospitality, friendship, and diplomacy to the students in Mexico. Express your gratitude to Mexico for providing safe overwintering habitat for the world's monarchs. A new design is now available.

Question: A teacher in Virginia asked, "Is it permissible for the students to glue a picture of themselves on the butterflies?"

"Yes, please do! We've watched their reactions when receiving symbolic butterflies, and the children in Mexico love to see pictures of their new friends. Wallet-sized school photos make great faces for butterflies."

How to Respond to Today's Monarch Challenge Questions:

IMPORTANT: Please answer ONLY ONE question in each e-mail message!

1. Address an e-mail message to:
2. In the Subject Line of each message write: Challenge Question #4 (or #5, or #6)
3. In the body of the message, answer ONE of the questions above.

The Next Monarch Migration Update Will Be Posted on September 27, 2000.

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