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Monarch Butterfly Migration Update: February 7, 2001

Today's Report Includes:

Welcome to Journey North's Spring Monarch Migration Season!
We begin our season each year while the monarchs are at the over-wintering sites, deep in central Mexico. When their migration begins in March, we hope you'll help us track their journey north. (See instructions.)

A Winter Visit to the Monarch Sanctuaries
Dr. Calvert's teacher tour braved the coldest temperatures of the over-wintering season on a New Year's visit to the sanctuaries. Here's his report:

"About 20 school teachers, assorted spouses, children and myself arrived at Angangueo, Michoacan, on the first of January. We piled into trucks and proceeded up the mountain. Butterflies were packed densely as clusters which is typical for this time of the year. The day was cold, and it was also cloudy. Air temperatures were probably in the forties (F). Pea-sized hail occurred each day that we were there. Some butterflies had spilled out of their clusters onto the ground, possibly brought there by hailstorms. The hail had knocked down many fir needles--the ground was peppered with them. Fortunately there was little indication of massive mortality, in spite of much concern about how the monarchs were faring (because of record cold temperatures and much snow in the north). The colony in the Sierra Chincua was average sized for that sanctuary, about a hectare and a half. As a rule of thumb, I estimate 13 million butterflies per hectare. This means the population size was somewhere near 20 million butterflies!

"My next trip is the week of February 19th. From there, I'll be reporting in most weeks during the over-wintering season."

Bill Calvert
Texas Monarch Watch
How Many is 20 Million Butterflies?
It's hard to imagine so many butterflies in one place. Among the 20 million butterflies were probably some from your own state or province--and MAYBE even one you raised yourself! Imagine for a minute that you gave one of the 20 million butterflies to each person in your state or province--and then to all of the people in your neighboring states and provinces...

Challenge Question #1
"How far would you have to go to reach 20 million people? (In your answer, please list the names of the states and provinces you needed to reach 20 million people.)"

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

Monitoring the Sierra Chincua Sanctuary With Eligio Garcia

Meet Eligio Garcia, a biologist who works for the Mexican government. Each week, he visits all of the largest monarch colonies. He measures the size of the colony, counts the number of trees filled with monarchs, records the temperature, wind speed, and the altitude of the colony. As the season changes, he monitors the many ways that the monarch colonies change. Imagine going to work with Eligio. He is one of the few people who's actually allowed to go into the center of the colony. There he's surrounded by trees filled with millions of butterflies--and the sky is a blizzard of orange.

Each week, Eligio will send his data to you from the Sierra Chincua sanctuary. He has been collecting data since December and recording his observations in his field journal.

1) Print out a copy of Eligio's data sheet for Sierra Chincua Sanctuary

2) Read the entries in Eligio's weekly field journal
3) Record the observations on your own data sheet. (You may need your Spanish/English dictionary!)

4) Make notes about how the colony changes as the season progresses. When do you predict the monarchs will begin to mate? When will they move down the mountain in search of water? When will their spring migration begin? When do you think final monarchs will leave the Sierra Chincua Sanctuary?
Try This! How Much Space Does a Monarch Colony Need?
On your school grounds, measure an area equal to the size of the monarch colony at Sierra Chincua. This will help you picture how large this year's 1.5 hectare monarch colony actually is. (1 hectare= 2.47 acres.)

The monarch colony will not stay in the same place all season! In fact, according to Eligio Garcia, "If we consider all the land the colony occupies--from the time the butterflies arrive in November until their departure in March--it has been estimated that a colony will utilize 60 hectares (148 acres)."

Life in the Sanctuary Area: Children and Families Share Their Stories
ranchera012Watch for these first-person accounts each week, prepared in both English and Spanish. We hope these stories will portray the personal side of monarch conservation, through the eyes of the children and families who live in the region. While these people are some of the poorest in our hemisphere, much of the responsibility for monarch conservation falls on their shoulders.
  • Berenices y La Vida en el Rancho
    "Mi abuela y mi abuelo son unos de los pocos que quedan que pueden todavia hablar en idioma indigeno ancestral de otomi. Esto es muy raro en estos dias, desde que este lenguage empezó a ser reemplazado por el español hace casi 500 años atrás."

  • Berenices and Life on the Ranch
    "My grandmother and grandfather are two of the very few people left who can still speak the ancient otomi indigenous language," explains Bernices. "This is very rare these days, since the language began to be replaced by Spanish almost 500 years ago."

Try This! Comparing and Contrasting Language and Culture
Here's a suggestion for reading these bilingual vignettes about life in the Monarch Sanctuary Region. The same steps can be followed for each of the vignettes.

Write a Field Guide for Monarchs on the Wintering Grounds
Over the next six weeks, you will receive weekly news from the monarch's wintering grounds. Read each report for information and facts about monarch biology and conservation. Topic areas such as the following will be included:

Habitat and Range Life Cycle and Reproduction
Population size Food, Water, Diet
Anatomy Predation
Adaptations Conservation

Much of the information you will receive cannot be found in a book--so why not write and illustrate your own? Students are welcome to download pictures from the Journey North website to include in their work. If your class would like to prepare a Field Guide--in Spanish--that could actually be used by tour guides at the Mexican sanctuaries, please contact us:

How to Respond to Today's Monarch Challenge Question

1. Address an e-mail message to:
2. In the Subject Line of your message write: Challenge Question #1
3. In the body of your message, answer the question above.

The Next Monarch Migration Update Will Be Posted on February 14, 2001

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