Monarch Butterfly Update: May 17, 2012
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The migration has entered three New England states and another Canadian province, and milkweed is now growing across the monarch's breeding range. This week, explore who's who in the milkweed community. Also, send us reviews of the monarch books you recommend.

This Week's Update Includes:

Image of the Week

Reading Milkweed Visitors

Milkweed Visitors
News: Monarchs Make Manitoba!
Early Arrivals
When Manitoba's first monarchs appeared near Winnipeg this weekend, they were three weeks early. At latitude 50°N, these monarchs are pressing their luck. Milkweed is just emerging, and the average final frost in Winnipeg isn't until May 25th. Nearby, in northern Minnesota, monarchs found tiny milkweed and spring dandelions:

"First monarch sighting of the year. It's going for dandelions to drink what little nectar there is."

"Milkweed is up 1-2", first female arrived. She laid eggs on every shoot she could find."

Milkweed and Migration
Why do monarchs migrate? Wouldn't it be easier to stay in Mexico? Monarchs are taking advantage of the growing season in the northern hemisphere. As miles and miles of milkweed habitat becomes available, monarchs arrive, lay their eggs—and hungry caterpillars have plenty to eat.

Texas Milkweed Habitat
This stunning series of images shows monarch habitat in Texas over three years—before, during and after extreme drought. Skip Kiphart took the pictures at his MLMP monitoring site at Cibilo Nature Center in Boerne. Last spring, drought gripped the state's critical monarch breeding habitat. Rains have returned to Texas this spring. Has milkweed habitat improved? Kiphart says milkweed density was lower than he expected at his monitoring site. However:

"My sense is that the number of milkweeds in the monitored patches is down but, in my estimation and from reports of others in the area, the overall biomass of milkweed is considerably higher. I'm hearing comments such as, 'I've never had more milkweed on my place, and 'I've never seen more milkweed along the roads,' etc."

Most first generation monarchs are produced in Texas. What conditions there led to the high numbers of monarchs people are seeing now in the north? Was there more milkweed biomass? Were there fewer predators or other monarch enemies? How did warm spring temperatures affect monarch reproduction? Scientists must answer questions like these to understand why the monarch population fluctuates.

Milkweed map
Got Milkweed?

Milkweed and Migration
Milkweed and Migration
Texas Milkweed Habitat
Image: Skip Kiphart
Texas Milkweed Habitat
Tachnid Fly
Photo: Chuck Patterson
A Monarch Enemy

Monarch Butterfly Larva Eating Eggshell After Hatching
Image: Marcy Cunkleman
Watch out!
Explore: Who's Who in the Milkweed Patch?
Meet some of the creatures that live in the milkweed patch. How do they make a living? There are carnivores, herbivores, nectivores, and scavengers. There are predators and parasites, too. Look closely at the pictures in the photo gallery, read the descriptive clue cards, and see if you can figure out who's who!

Did you know?

  • The chemicals in milkweed do not fully protect monarchs from all of their enemies. Monarch eggs and larvae have many predators and parasites.
  • Scientists estimate that fewer than 10% of monarch eggs survive past the first instar larval stage.

Photo Gallery
Clue Cards

Student Showcase: Literature Connection
"The milkweed plant provides food and shelter for many organisms," say 2nd grade students at Union Mill Elementary in Clifton, Virginia. The book Milkweed Visitors inspired them to create this mural.

"We have been having fun watching our milkweed grow and learning about the milkweed patch. These signs were made to protect our milkweed."

"The second grade is preserving this to get monarch butterflies" says the sign of the left.

Students read Milkweed Visitors by Mary Holland then made this mural.


Contact us
to share your activities, photos, writing and artwork in the Student Showcase.

Activity: Student Book Reviews
We're collecting book reviews written by students. Which monarch books would you recommend? Write and send your reviews to Journey North for a Student Showcase.


The Migration: Maps and Journal Page
Let's find out when and where monarchs and milkweed appear this spring.
Monarch Butterfly Winter Sightings Map of milkweed emergence: Spring 2011 Worksheet: Journal Page
First Monarch
(map | animation | sightings)
First Milkweed
(map | animation | sightings)
The next monarch migration update will be posted on May 24, 2012.