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Monarch Butterfly Update: March 24, 1998

Today's Report Includes:

First Sightings Reported From the Migration Trail!
Just days after Bill Calvert witnessed a mass migration of monarchs leaving the Mexican wintering sites, reports of monarchs from points many miles to the north arrived.

"Monarchs were pouring across the border in the Rio Grande Valley near Progreso on the March 16th and 17th," says Calvert. "They've crossed into Texas and are coming our way!" Here's the latest migration map and comments from our observers in the south:

Comments from Observers
Coahilla, Mexico

South of the U.S. border in Coahilla, Mexico, Rocío Treviño reports, "Rogelio, my son was doing some wildlife surveys in Guerrero Coah., near Eagle Pass Texas (about 40 Km west and 15 Km south of the Rio Grande). He observed a single monarch at 4:55 pm, flying on a ranch's house garden." (

Victoria, TX

"Our first migrating Monarch may have found us today at 4:40 pm. We were looking at milkweed when a faded female circled us and landed two feet in front of us on the A.c. The black was gray and the orange almost tan. No missing parts but seemed exhausted compared to over-winterers. Calm 74 clear. Harlen Aschen, Victoria, TX (Mid-Coast) (

Brenem, TX

And from Brenem, TX near Houston, "I was outside working in my garden when all of a sudden a monarch landed in my purple verbena. I could not get close enough to examine the wings. What a Spring Break Surprise!!" says Susie Machemehl

Baton Rouge, LA

"First migrating monarch seen yesterday! (3/19/98) It was a male, wings were medium worn. Temperature 74 degrees, partly cloudy day. It was seen nectaring on Mexican milkweed. No others seen today. A cold front came through last night and temperatures are cool now, in the 40's, so I didn't expect to see more today." Lepidopterist Dr. Gary Ross, Baton Rouge, LA (

Data Summary: Winter Monarch Sightings
Do all monarchs migrate to Mexico? Not this year, according to observers throughout the Gulf States region. Monarchs were sighted at the following 19 locations this winter:

If monarchs wintered in your area and you're not included here, please contact Journey North headquarters at:

On our migration map, each winter sightings is indicated as a small, red triangle. The over-wintering region in Mexico is shown as a large red triangle. You may want to do the same on your monarch migration map. As the migration progresses, sightings of migrants will be added to our map along the spectrum from yellows (early sightings, in the south) to reds (late sightings, in the north).

Butterfly biologist Dr. Gary Ross shares these observations from Baton Rouge, LA. "Monarchs have been laying eggs all winter. In fact, the milkweed didn't even die down. Caterpillars have had fresh food supply, and they're everywhere. Their growth is slower in the winter, but they're still developing. Two colleagues I'm in contact with have seen fresh monarchs, so they know they're still reproducing successfully. Migrants will be very clear when they do come from Mexico, they're so tattered it's easy to distinguish them."

"In the U.S., we know there is occasionally a colony at Honeymoon Island, north of Tampa, FL, and monarchs breed throughout the year in the Miami area," commented Lincoln Brower. In warm years, Brower explained, monarchs are often able to survive the winter in the Gulf States. However, due to freezing temperatures, sustainable populations in the Gulf States region do not survive on a long term basis.

Unusual Monarch Sighting Reported from Florida Gulf Coast
To our great surprise, the following news arrived last week:

Panama City Beach, FL
March 15, 1997

"Out on the fishing pier in the morning, I saws about 50 monarchs came in from the Gulf. They were bucking a strong headwind, and flying with difficulty when it gusted. After noon, the wind picked up and changed to southerly. I saw no more butterflies after the wind changed.

"When I saw the first one, I was a bit surprised because I had read the reports of the butterflies just getting ready to migrate from Mexico. But as I watched them come in from the Gulf, one at a time, I started counting them. I counted all morning and about 50 came in past the fishing pier. They were flying low. The morning of 3/15 was sunny and warm (75F) with a light north breeze, and 3/14 was also sunny and warm. I have seen a few since, including 3 on 3/19/97."
Francis Harvey (

Find Panama City Beach, FL on a map (30.103 N, -85.482W).
What questions come to your mind when you read this Florida report?

Challenge Question #7
"What questions do you have for the observer on the Florida Gulf Coast? Where do you think the monarchs sighted there on 3/15/98 are coming from?"

(To respond to this question, please follow the instructions at the end of this report.)

Please send as many questions and interpretations as you can. We have contacted several monarch biologists to hear their interpretations. In our next report we'll summarize your thoughts, along with comments from the monarch biologists.

Weather and Monarch

March 13

March 14

March 16

Click on each image to view the full surface map

Here are weather maps for the days before and after the monarchs arrived on the Florida coast. Notice the wind direction and location of fronts. In future reports we'll review weather patterns with the week's migration data.

You're the Scientist
Today's Florida sighting brings up a topic of central importance. As you track the monarch migration this spring, you will be receiving data from observers across the continent. The Internet gives us the opportunity to expand our own observations in ways never before possible. However, in order for the data to be valid and useful, we must be able to trust the accuracy of observations made by others.

As you map the migration this spring, you will be responsible for questioning, validating and interpreting the data. Don't believe everything you read! With each migration sighting, the observer's e-mail address is provided on the WWW. If you question any of the sightings, we encourage you to contact the observer directly and ask questions. Here's an exercise to help you think about this further:

Unpave the Way for Monarchs

Meet People Who Are Helping Monarchs Along
the Migration Trail

(Click on Map.)

Is your habitat ready for the monarchs' arrival? If you'd like to learn how to attract butterflies to your backyard, take a garden tour of the many butterfly gardens and other backyard habitat sites reported as part of the "Unpave the Way for Wildlife" project.

Take a "garden tour" on the WWW. Simply click on any location on the map, and meet the gardeners who are helping to unpave the way for monarchs along the migration trail. The e-mail address from each site is included, so you can ask questions as you create your own site.

How to Respond to Today's Challenge Question
1. Address an e-mail message to:
2. In the Subject Line of your message write: Challenge Question # 7
3. In the body of the message, give your answer to this question:

Challenge Question #7
"What questions do you have for the observer on the Florida Gulf Coast? Where do you think the monarchs sighted there on 3/15/98 are coming from?"

The Next Monarch Butterfly Migration Update Will be Posted on March 31, 1998.

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