Category Archives: Monarchs in Mexico

TINY KALEIDOSCOPE OF MONARCHS PASSING THROUGH

Winds from the north brought a tiny kaleidoscope of Monarchs to our shores over  the weekend. Isn’t that a wonderful official word for a group of butterflies! A bunch of caterpillars is officially called an army.

Will there be more waves of Monarchs passing through? Time will tell. Along the Atlantic Coast Flyway, we’ve seen far fewer butterflies so far this year, especially when compared to last year’s numbers. Keeping my hopes up though 🙂Dancing Monarch

Soaring Monarch

BEAUTY ON THE WING OFFICIAL SELECTIONS FOR THE WILDLIFE CONSERVATION AND NATURE WITHOUT BORDERS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVALS

Deeply honored to be included in the Nature Without Borders International and Wildlife Conservation Film Festivals

Kim Smith Interview with NHDocs

New Haven Documentary Film Festival presents a Q&A w/Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly director Kim Smith.

A Q&A, , moderated by NHdocs festival supervisor Karyl Evans, which accompanied the virtual screening of the feature documentary Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly at the 7th annual edition of NHdocs: the New Haven Documentary Film Festival in August 2020.

For more information: www.NHdocs.com

With thanks and gratitude to New Haven Documentary Film Festival director Gorman Bechard and interviewer Karyl Evans for this interview. I am so appreciative of the support given to filmmakers by these two, filmmakers themselves. The festival was beautifully organized and I have received so much positive feedback. What an honor to be accepted!

NEW STUDY BY MONARCH WATCH CHIP TAYLOR REFUTES “MIGRATION MORTALITY” AS THE MAJOR REASON FOR THE DECLINE OF THE MONARCHS

Female Monarch depositing egg on Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)

Evaluating the Migration Mortality Hypothesis Using Monarch Tagging Data

Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution

August 7, 2020

Authors:

Orley Talor, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS, United States

John M. Pleastant, Department of Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology, Iowa State University, Ames, IA, United States

Ralph Grundel, U.S. Geological Survey, Great Lakes Science Center, Chesterton, IN, United States

Samulel D. Pecoraro, U.S. Geological Survey, Great Lakes Science Center, Chesterton, IN, United States

James P. Lovett, Monarch Watch, Kansas Biological Survey, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS, United States

Ann Ryan, Monarch Watch, Kansas Biological Survey, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS, United States

The decline in the eastern North American population of the monarch butterfly population since the late 1990s has been attributed to the loss of milkweed during the summer breeding season and the consequent reduction in the size of the summer population that migrates to central Mexico to overwinter (milkweed limitation hypothesis). However, in some studies the size of the summer population was not found to decline and was not correlated with the size of the overwintering population. The authors of these studies concluded that milkweed limitation could not explain the overwintering population decline. They hypothesized that increased mortality during fall migration was responsible (migration mortality hypothesis). We used data from the long-term monarch tagging program, managed by Monarch Watch, to examine three predictions of the migration mortality hypothesis: (1) that the summer population size is not correlated with the overwintering population size, (2) that migration success is the main determinant of overwintering population size, and (3) that migration success has declined over the last two decades. As an index of the summer population size, we used the number of wild-caught migrating individuals tagged in the U.S. Midwest from 1998 to 2015. As an index of migration success we used the recovery rate of Midwest tagged individuals in Mexico. With regard to the three predictions: (1) the number of tagged individuals in the Midwest, explained 74% of the variation in the size of the overwintering population. Other measures of summer population size were also correlated with overwintering population size. Thus, there is no disconnection between late summer and winter population sizes. (2) Migration success was not significantly correlated with overwintering population size, and (3) migration success did not decrease during this period. Migration success was correlated with the level of greenness of the area in the southern U.S. used for nectar by migrating butterflies. Thus, the main determinant of yearly variation in overwintering population size is summer population size with migration success being a minor determinant. Consequently, increasing milkweed habitat, which has the potential of increasing the summer monarch population, is the conservation measure that will have the greatest impact.

Introduction

Since the late 1990s, the monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus, population has declined significantly based on measurements made at the Mexican overwintering grounds (Brower et al., 2011; Semmens et al., 2016). Identifying the cause or causes of the decline is important in order to focus conservation measures appropriately. Two explanations for the decline in the size of the overwintering population dominate the literature. The first, known as the “milkweed limitation” hypothesis, posits that the decline in the number of milkweed host plants in the major summer breeding area in the Upper Midwest of the U.S. (Figure 1) has led to a reduction in the size of the migratory population (Pleasants et al., 2017). The second, known as the “migration mortality” hypothesis, posits that the resources and conditions during the fall migration have declined resulting in an increase in mortality during the migration and a decline in the overwintering population (Agrawal and Inamine, 2018).

Figure 1. All wild-caught butterflies tagged from north of 40° latitude and east of 100° longitude were included in the study. This area includes the region we are calling the Midwest, encompassing the area from 40 to 50° latitude and 80 to 100° longitude (outlined in red) and the region we are calling the Northeast, encompassing the area from 40 to 50° latitude and 65 to 80° longitude (outlined in blue). What we are calling the Total Area is the Midwest and Northeast combined. The NDVI values (Saunders et al., 2019) come from the region that encompasses the area from 30 to 40° latitude and 90 to 105° longitude (outlined in green). The dark blue square indicates the location of the overwintering colonies. Butterflies were tagged in other sectors besides the Midwest and Northeast but those data are not included in this study.

The milkweed limitation hypothesis is supported by data showing that in the early 2000s the majority of monarch production came from common milkweed, Asclepias syriaca, in corn and soybean fields in the Midwest (Oberhauser et al., 2001) and that the abundance of those milkweeds declined precipitously due to glyphosate herbicide use in those fields (Pleasants and Oberhauser, 2013; Flockhart et al., 2015; Pleasants et al., 2017; Thogmartin et al., 2017a; Saunders et al., 2018). The loss of the milkweeds from corn and soybean fields began in the late 1990s with the adoption of glyphosate-tolerant crops. Milkweeds had been nearly eliminated from these fields by 2006 (Pleasants, 2017). During this period, an estimated 71% of the monarch production potential of milkweeds on the Midwest landscape was eliminated, amounting to 25 million hectares of agricultural habitat that no longer had milkweeds (Pleasants, 2017). The subsequent decrease in the availability of milkweed is thought to have limited the size of the summer breeding population. Support for this hypothesis comes from the pattern of decline in milkweed availability that parallels the decline in the size of the overwintering population (Pleasants et al., 2017). Further support comes from the strong correlation between yearly late summer Midwest monarch egg production and yearly overwintering population size (Pleasants and Oberhauser, 2013; Pleasants et al., 2017).

READ MORE HERE

Beauty on the Wing Movie Poster

Version two of Monarch movie poster, with laurels!

THANK YOU HEATHER ATWOOD AND KORY CURCURU FOR THE WONDERFUL MONARCH FILM 1623 STUDIOS INTERVIEW!

Thank you so very much to Heather Atwood and Kory Curcuru for sharing about all things Monarchs, including the current state of the butterflies, Monarchs and other species of butterflies found in our gardens, and about my forthcoming film Beauty on the Wing; Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly.  

I look forward to watching weekly episodes of their show, Cape Ann Today, and was simply delighted to be interviewed. Thank you again

“As light as a paperclip and they travel over 3,000 miles.” The Monarch Butterfly and its awe-inspiring life cycle has become a sort of northstar for documentary filmmaker Kim Smith. Watch the trailer to her soon-to-be-released film, “Beauty on the Wing – Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly” and hear Smith discuss this iconic winged being, and what we can do to support its journey.

You can watch the interview on either Youtube or the Facebook link; I think the Youtube version is a little clearer.

WHERE HAVE ALL THE BUTTERFLIES GONE?

In thinking about where have all the butterflies gone, I am reminded of the poignant song written by Pete Seeger “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” which although a song about the futility of war, sums up much about the environmental impact of habitat loss. Without wildflower habitat, there will be no pollinators of any sort.

Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time ago.

Buckeye and Seaside Goldenrod

Where have all the butterflies gone? Different species of butterfly populations fluctuate from year to year. For example, some years you may see far greater numbers of Buckeyes, the next year not so much. That same year you may hardly see any Tiger Swallowtails but will the following.

That being said,, everyone must realize that every year there are fewer butterflies than the year before. Butterflies thrive in meadows, the very same topography that is the easiest to build upon. Every time a new house or shopping mall is built on a meadow, we decrease not just butterfly habitat, but a whole community of wildlife habitat.

In the above photo you can see a Monarch with a Black Swallowtail flying overhead. This stunning patch of wildflowers and nectar plants was sited in Gloucester at a prime spot for Monarchs to rest and refuel after migrating across Massachusetts Bay. The new home owners ripped out most of the wildflowers and planted the site in a more formal style, with non-native perennials and shrubs. At this location, I would often see Monarchs, Tiger Swallowtails, Black Swallowtails, Painted and American Ladies, Sulphurs, and many other species. That is no longer true.

Tiger Swallowtail drinking nectar from Joe Pye-weed at the same wildflower patch, no longer in existence.

Butterfly and bee populations are declining overall, not only because of habitat loss, but because of the unbridled use of herbicides and pesticides in agriculture and home lawn care.

Butterflies are especially sensitive to fluctuations in weather, and also to overall climate change. This year we had a long, cold wet spring. The inclement weather is continuing, too, from a butterflies perspective, because although we are seeing some warmer temperatures the past few days, it has mostly been rainy, foggy, or overcast. Butterflies thrive during long stretches of sunny, hot weather. Their wings don’t work very well in the damp and cold. Because of global climate change, we have seen a seven percent increase in precipitation worldwide.

One of the best years I have ever seen for dozens and dozens of species of butterflies, including Monarchs, in the Northeast, was the summer and fall of 2012. That year, we had a warm winter followed by a warm spring, then a warm, dry summer, and a long, warm Indian summer. It was butterfly bonanza that summer and autumn!Adding to people’s concern is the fact that last year, there was an abundance of spring rain that in turn created an extraordinary wildflower bloom in Texas, which got all the butterflies off to a good start. In 2019, we were seeing Monarchs as early as early June, which was very unusual for Cape Ann. Folks are comparing this year to that of 2019, however, 2019 was not an average year.

Monarchs are a case unto themselves. Their spring and summer numbers depend upon a variety of additional conditions, including how successful was the previous year’s autumn migration, whether or not there were nectar providing wildflowers on their northward and southward  migrations, and wind and weather conditions from Canada to Mexico.

Note the bar graph in that the eastern population of the Monarchs plummeted by half, according to this year’s spring count by the World Wildlife Fund Mexico.

Particularly in the northeast, the wind patterns during the Monarchs spring northward migration matter tremendously. My friend Charmaine at Point Pelee, in southern Ontario, which is 49 degrees latitude (we are 43 degrees latitude) has been raising and releasing Monarchs for over a month now, while most of us on Cape Ann have only seen a smattering. The Monarchs moved this year in a straight northward trajectory. If the wind does not blow from west to east during some part of their northward migration, far fewer will end up along the eastern shores.Monarchs and Seaside Goldenrod

All is not lost. I am 90 percent certain we will soon be seeing some of our migratory and non-migratory local populations, we just need some good weather. They are later than usual, but not gone entirely.

For so many more reasons, I am hopeful for the future of wildlife and their habitats and see such tremendous, positive change. Despite the current administration’ s extremely harmful stance against the environment, many, many individuals and organizations are gaining a deeper appreciation about the importance of habitats and taking positive action. Many have made it their life’s work. These individuals and organizations are creating wildlife sanctuaries and conserving existing habitats. If the Monarch is declared an endangered species, that will surely bring an added awarenesses and increased federal spending for protecting and creating habitats.

How can you help the Monarchs, which in turn will help myriad species of other butterflies and pollinators? Plant wildflowers! Both Marsh and Common Milkweed for their northward migration, and lots of nectar-rich later summer blooming wildflowers for their southward migration, including New England Aster, Smooth Aster, Purple-stemmed Aster, Seaside Goldenrod, and Canada Goldenrod.Monarchs and New England Aster

BEAUTY ON THE WING ACCEPTED TO THE NEW HAVEN DOCUMENTARY FILM FESTIVAL!

Overjoyed Beauty on the Wing is going to the New Haven Documentary Film Festival!

2019 Honors Filmmaker –

HAS ANYONE SEEN MONARCHS YET?

Although Monarchs have been sited as far north as 46 degrees, it is still very early for us even though we are at 43 degrees latitude because we are so far east. Please write if you see one in your garden. And feel free to send a photo. I will post photos here. Thank you so much!

Keep your eyes peeled, especially on emerging milkweed shoots. In the photos below, Monarchs are drinking nectar from, depositing eggs on, and also mating on the milkweed plants. Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) and Marsh Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) are the two most productive milkweeds for the Northeast region.

EARTH DAY 1970 – 2020: “MONARCH BUTTERFLIES MATING” SHORT FILM AND WHY WE PLANT NATIVE WILDFLOWER HABITAT GARDENS!

An excerpt from my forthcoming film, Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly, shows three of the wildflowers found in our gardens, meadows, and marshes that attracts Monarchs, along with myriad species of other pollinators.

Plant the two milkweeds listed below and you, too, will have Monarchs mating in your garden!

Featuring:

Seaside Goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens) that supports southward migrating Monarchs.

Marsh Milkweed (Ascleipias incarnata), one of the milkweeds most readily used by ovipositing female Monarchs.

Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca). A study published last year that shows Common Milkweed is THE milkweed for Monarchs!

Music by Jesse Cook

BEAUTY ON THE WING PREVIEW SCREENING POSTPONED

Dear Friends,

The Gloucester Stage Company’s preview screening of my forthcoming documentary Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly has been postponed until May. We don’t have a set date yet and I will keep you posted.

If you have already purchased tickets you will be contacted by the GSC box office. You will have the option of a full refund or the ticket my be used at the screening on its new date.

Please forgive any inconvenience and thank you for understanding

SAVE THE DATE: BEAUTY ON THE WING PREVIEW SCREENING AT THE GLOUCESTER STAGE COMPANY!

Dear Friends,

I am overjoyed to let you know that we are having a preview screening of my Monarch Butterfly documentary Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly at the Gloucester Stage Company on Saturday, April 4th, at 7:30.

Tickets are $10.00 and may be purchased in advance by following this link to the Gloucester Stage Company here.

Thank you to everyone who can come. I can’t wait to share to share my film with you!

 

SAFE GUARDING THE BUTTERFLIES: FILM INTERVIEW WITH JOEL MORENO ROJAS AND ELLEN SHARP FOUNDERS OF THE BUTTERFLIES AND THEIR PEOPLE PROJECT

In March I had the tremendous joy of interviewing Ellen Sharp and Joel Moreno Rojas, founders of the nonprofit organization “The Butterflies and Their People Project.” We filmed the interview from the rooftop of their hotel, JM Butterfly B&B, which is located at the base of Cerro Pelon Monarch Butterfly Reserve in Macheros, Mexico. Cerro Pelon is the old volcanic mountain where the Monarchs wintering home was first located by Mexican citizen scientist Catalina Aguado Trail, on January 2, 1975.  Trail was at the time working under the direction of zoologist Doctor Fred Urquhart of the University of Toronto.

Joel and Ellen are simply an amazing dynamic duo. They have built a beautiful and welcoming bed and breakfast at Cerro Pelon, the most pristine and least trafficked of Monarch sanctuaries. Largely through the conservation efforts of The Butterflies and Their People Project they have helped provide economic opportunities that have in turn dramatically reduced illegal logging and deforestation of the core protected areas of the forest.

The mission of The Butterflies and Their People Project is to “preserve the butterfly sanctuary by creating jobs for local people in forest and monarch butterfly conservation. The Butterflies & Their People Project is an Asociación Civil (non-profit organization) registered and located in the village of Macheros in the State of Mexico.”

I hope you’ll watch and will be equally as enamored of Joel and Ellen as were we. You’ll learn more about how The Butterflies and Their People Project came to be, the importance of protecting the existing Monarch Butterfly forest sanctuaries, and how jobs and economic growth go hand and hand with protecting the vitally important temperate forests of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve.  And a bit about how this extraordinary couple met and began their journey in Monarch conservation.

To learn more about The Butterflies and Their People Project visit their website.

To donate to The Butterflies and Their People Go Fund Me fundraiser click here.

To learn more about and make a reservation at  JM Butterfly B and B click here.

HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY AND THANK YOU SO MUCH MONARCH FRIENDS!

Thank you so much dear butterfly friends for sharing Beauty on the Wing trailer. As I am writing this post, the new trailer just hit 600 views. That is quite wonderful as it has only been three days since we first shared the trailer and because unlike YouTube where if you watch only a few moments of a video it counts as a hit, with Vimeo, you have to watch it all the way through to be counted. By sharing the trailer and generating many views, you are truly helping when festival judges are viewing submissions.

So thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing!!! 

I couldn’t resist sharing the above photo from Alisa Marie, a member of the terrific group “The Beautiful Monarch,” administered by the very knowledgeable Holli Hearn.

Monarch Heart

Monarch Butterfly Film Update

Dear Friends,

You are receiving this note because you donated generously or because you have been a friend and supporter in one manner or another to my documentary Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly.

I am beyond excited to share that we will be picking up the masters this week from the color and sound editing studio, Modulus, which I have been working with these many months. The film has come together beautifully. I think you will love the soundtrack by Jesse Cook and the new mix and voiceover recording. Because of several delays over the course of editing, I was able to include footage from the butterfly’s spectacular late winter exodus at Cerro Pelon, Mexico, and from the exquisite Monarch migration that took place along the shores of Cape Ann this past fall.

Currently I am submitting Beauty on the Wing to film festivals. Over the weekend I sent in no less than 18 submissions. Some festivals we’ll hear back from within a few weeks, others it may take several months. In the meantime, I am learning about film distribution and am working on scheduling a sneak peek preview screening for all my donors and will keep you posted about that.

Here is the new short trailer. I hope you will have two minutes to view and also, if you could please share. The old trailer has thousands of views and believe it or not, number of views is important to festival organizers and film distributors So please share. Also, I am creating a longer, more detailed trailer and will send that along later this week.

A most heartfelt thank you for your generosity and your kind support. I am so grateful.

Sincerely,

Kim

P.S. See below a very rough draft of a poster because I needed one quickly for the festival applications- I am looking for a graphic designer who can help with some ideas I have for posters, postcards, and other promotional materials. Please let me know if you have someone you love to work with. Thank you!

MONARCH BUTTERFLY PROTECTORS MURDERED

Many friends have written with questions about the death of Homero Gómez González, and now a second Monarch Butterfly conservationist Raúl Hernández Romero, has also been found murdered. The deaths have been widely reported by the BBC, NYTimes, Washington Post, and many other news media. These are tragic events taking place in the desperately poor state of Michoacán, where the people who commit these crimes have nothing much to lose. The problems in these districts are many-layered and complex.

Homero Gómez González

I can only speak to our own experience traveling to the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserves in Michoacán and the State of Mexico. On our trip last March, Tom and I stayed at the beautiful inn, JM Monarch Butterfly Bed and Breakfast, located in sleepy Macheros. JM Butterfly is owned and operated by husband and wife team Joel Rojas Moreno and Ellen Sharp. Macheros is a rural hamlet, called a ‘ranchita,’ with a population of more horses to people. Macheros is sited at the base of an old volcanic mountain, Cerro Pelon, which is located in the State of Mexico.

Cerro Pelon is the mountain where the butterflies were first located by outsiders. The villagers knew of the Monarchs annual return, but it was a mystery to the rest of the world where the Monarchs wintered over.

We felt safe every moment of our time at Cerro Pelon and JM Butterfly B and B. So safe that I went for long walks through the town filming and taking photos, on my own, and often left my handbag unattended  when socializing with fellow guests at dinner and in the common areas of the Inn .

Later this month I am posting a video interview with Ellen and Joel where we discuss safety issues, but it is well worth noting the following at this point in time when so much attention has been drawn to the region. Some states, cities, and towns in Mexico are more  prone to violence than other areas, just as we find in different regions of the US. Basing a decision to travel to Cerro Pelon on what happens in Michoacán is like saying I am not going to travel to Beverly Hills because of the gang violence that takes place in Emeryville.

I absolutely love Cerro Pelon and JM Butterfly B and B and hope to return very soon. We also can’t wait until our granddaughter is just a wee bit older so we can take a family trip there. I write older only for the reason that she will remember how memorable an experience.

Conversely, the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve at El Rosario is located in the state of Michoacán, where gang violence poses a greater threat. Homero Gómez González was a manager at El Rosario,  a former logger himself, and he campaigned to protect the reserve. Raúl Hernández Romero was also an environmentalist and tour guide. It is tragic that the defense of the exquisite and productive forest habitats of the Monarch Biosphere Reserves turns activists into victims of threats and persecution and that Monarch protectors González and Romero have paid the ultimate price for their bravery.

I traveled to El Rosario, in 2014, and again in March of 2019. This last trip we were with a small group sponsored by JM Butterfly and both trips, the one taken in 2014 and the one in 2019, we were perfectly safe and well looked after by our guides. The majority of the visitors to El Rosario are international tourists and Mexican families, respectively, making first time visits and annual pilgrimages. You will see the very youngest babies being strolled along the paths to the very oldest grannies hobbling along with walking sticks, and everyone in between.

El Rosario Monarch Butterfly Biosphere

Rural communities throughout Mexico are developing, some more rapidly than others.  We can do a great deal to help the local economy by continuing to visit these beautiful but impoverished areas and the wonderful people you will meet there, to treasure the unspoiled habitats and wildlife you will find there, and to spend our tourist dollars generously.  We live in a time with growing environmental awareness, but also a time with increasing anti-environment animus, largely generated by the current US federal government’s devastating anti-environment policies.

González was missing for two weeks before his body was recovered at the bottom of a holding pond in an agricultural area. Prosecutors in Michoacán say an autopsy found that the cause of death was “mechanical asphyxiation by drowning of a person with head trauma.”

Raúl Hernández Romero, who had worked as a tour guide in the preserve went missing last Monday. His body was found bruised, his head showing trauma from a sharp object.

Mourners lower the coffin of community activist Homero Gómez González into a grave at a hillside cemetery in Ocampo, Mexico, on Friday. PHOTO: Rebecca Blackwell/AP

 

MONARCH BUTTERFLY FILM COMING SOON TO A THEATRE NEAR YOU!

We may have masters in hand by Wednesday! Posting a new trailer and film update this week 🙂

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

HERE’S TO A HAPPY NEW YEAR AND A HAPPY NEW DECADE! 

In spending the afternoon reflecting on the past year’s wildlife stories and photos, I have been thinking about what an extraordinary place is Cape Ann. How fortunate we all are to see amazing and beautiful wildlife stories unfolding in our own backyards each and every day! I am planning a Cape Ann Wildlife 2019 Year in Pictures and hope to find the time to post that this week.

News this year of an increase in Monarchs at the butterfly’s overwintering sites in Mexico, as well as strong numbers during the summer breeding season and fall migration, gives me great hope for the future of this beautiful species, and for all wildlife that we take underwing.

Monarchs flying into Gloucester butterfly trees, forming an overnight roost.

Our community has taken under its wings a pair of Piping Plovers. The two began calling Good Harbor Beach home in 2016. Because the community came together and worked as a team, this year we were able to fledge three tiny, adorable marshmallow-sized fluff balls at Gloucester’s most well-loved and populous beach. Thank you Piping Plover friends and Community for all that you did to help these most vulnerable of shorebirds successfully reach flying age. 

Another example of “underwing” – three nearly full grown PiPl chicks, all determined to nestle for warmth under Papa

THE SUPER GENERATION OF MONARCHS CONTINUE ON THEIR EXTRAORDINARY JOURNEY

Ribbons of orange and black butterflies are stopping to roost overnight all along the Gulf Coast of Florida’s Panhandle. These Monarchs are primarily members of the Atlantic Coast population. Because these Monarchs live for about seven to eight months, they are often referred to as a super generation of Monarchs, and are also known as the Methuselah Monarchs. They will continue along the Gulf Coast, soon joining the steady stream of Monarchs migrating through the central part of the US to cross the great Central Mexican Plateau (Altiplanicie Mexicana).

The Plateau is bordered by the Sierra Madre Occidental to the west and the Sierra Madre Oriental to the East. The Plateau ends where the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Mountains begin, forming a natural barrier, which prohibits further migration. The butterflies roost in the beautiful pine-oak forests of the Eje Volcanico Transversal.

The Atlantic Coast Super Generation of Monarchs, otherwise known as Methuselah Monarchs, Gloucester 2019

Monarch Butterfly overnight roost Gloucester 2019

The Monarchs are arriving to Mexico in ever increasing numbers. Colonies have yet to form, but that is not unusual for this time of year. Below are reports from Mexico from two of the butterfly sanctuaries where I filmed “Beauty on the Wing.” Ellen Sharp, along with her husband Joel Moreno Rojas, founded the nonprofit organization Butterflies and Their People, located at Cerro Pelón, Macheros. Estela Romero is Journey North’s program coordinator for Mexico and writes from her home in Angangueo, Michoacán.

From Macheros, MEX:

Ellen submitted this report: “From 1:08–1:24 pm on October 31, 2019 we spotted at least 54 determined little specks pumping their way across the sky. Meanwhile up on the Carditos side of, the Butterflies & Their People guardians sighted many more. Starting at 12:16 pm, Leonel and Francisco counted an average of eight per minute for the next ten minutes. Ever since that day, the skies have been filled with monarchs flying overhead until the afternoon rains arrive. We have yet to hear any news of colony formation on Cerro Pelon.” (10/31/2019)

Ellen and Joel, co-founders of Butterflies and Their People, also co-own JM Monarch Butterfly B and B, located in Macheros.

Gravesite Macheros, Mexico

From Angangueo, MEX
Here They Come!
Estela Romero writes:
Our dear friends,

Regardless of bad weather with rain, fog and dark clouds covering the sky for almost three weeks, Monarchs found no obstacle and poured down from the sky to attend to their ancestral encounter with incredible accuracy on the October 31st and November 1st.

“There they come”, “down to the bottom to town those go”, “up they just lifted flight”, “over there many more”, students, Emilio, Fernanda, Kevin and Diana, shouted. The monarchs were migrating through the valley. Monarchs do their triumphal entrance and last flying performance before they make their choice and split to their final destination at the unique Oyamel tree spots in the Sierra Madre mountains of “El Rosario” and “Sierra Chincua”, in Central México, two of the three main Sanctuaries at the region.

Monitoring map kept by students shows how the numbers of monarchs suddenly rose to hundreds!

Our legendary Mathusalen Generation of Monarchs, the Daughters of the Sun, have been, since ancestral times, the symbol of the after-life world of our ancestors and recently dead close relatives — the Miktlan dimension. Our indigenous groups show deep understanding of the relationship between life and death. Monarchs are the connection of this mystic relationship between life and death.

At last their souls appear shaped as orange and black beautiful energetic butterflies coming to all of us families, after longing for their arrival all year long;  our memories will always prevail upon their absence; they will always be among us; not invoking their lives and our time together would be really letting them die and forgotten, no, never”, murmur parents and grandpas as they hod their children and grandchildren by their hands in the streets of the town.

We all gather around our Ofrendas at home and even in public open sites. Each ofrenda may have from 2 levels, which represent heaven and earth, up to 7 or even 9 levels, each one a different dimension that the soul of our dead ones (the Tonali) will go through before reaching the Miktlan dimension”, explained elementary school teacher, Margarita. The Ofrenda is a collection of objects placed on a ritual display during the annual and traditionally Mexican Día de Muertos celebration.

“Each Ofrenda shall contain all favorite meals, drinks, objects, garments, and tools or utensils symbolizing our ancestor’s lives, preferences, enjoyment and ordinary living”, Víctor, Pamela and Juan explained as they gave their finishing touches to their beautiful Ofrenda.

The colorful papel picado is exclusively sold at this time of the year for the decoration of our Ofrendas; the Zempatzúchitl flower’s (Marygold) fragance shall guide the spirits of our ancestors to reach home; candle lights meaning light, hope and faith, shall also help them come home and then go back to their Miktlan world; our moms and grandma’s assisted by the rest of the family shall cook our dead ones’ favorite dishes in advance for this day; salt and water are main components of an Ofrenda, meaning relieve to thirst and hunger to the visiting spirits;  all kinds of drinks, fruit and our delicious “Pan de Muerto“ shall be included too. Tortillas, tamales, atole, tequila, mezcal andcerveza are indispensable in any Ofrenda; finally, at the very top, the photo or photos of our dead relative(s) to whom honor the Ofrenda has been set”,explained Ceciia, a middle school student, wearing her beautiful Catrina costume.

The Alebrijes also symbolize the Day of the Dead. The Alebrijes are bright, colorful, fantasy cardboard cutouts of creatures which are mixtures two or more animal body. The Alebrijes is part of our Mexican culture which has hit the international screen in films like Coco. TheAlebrije’s role is to guide the spirits of our dead ones to earth and back to the Miktlan underworld once their two-day visit is over.

“Our ancestors spirits shall share with us a big, big fest while we sing their favorite songs, play their favorite music, tell unforgettable anecdotes and memories and fill our homes with colour, flavors and joy to know that they shall be always among us and never gone from home and from our families”, teacher, Nacho, explained as he described the Ofrenda to the dead miners in town. Nacho is featured in the photo and shows how our town, Angangueo, was historically a mining town with mining the main employment for most families many decades ago.

Walo, a teacher who dressed up as Catrín, and Catrina Magali showed two different Ofrendas to our Monarch butterflies, souls of our dead ones, as the main symbol of these unique festivities in our region and all over our country as the ever living spirits of our dead ones.

As the festivals and the celebratory meals are over and our cemetery is dressed up to greet the monarchs as our ancestors, lets turn down our voices  and let us be still and silent as we wait to see at least one single Mathusalen Monarch arrive; let us all children and families from our three host countries, Canada, United States and México stand hand-in-hand while sharing our wonderful responsibility and our ancestral, unbreakable link among our three nations, while watching great-great-grandchildren Monarch pouring down as if from the heavens to our majestic mountains where they will see the exact Oyamel tree where their great-great-grand parents overwintered the season before — and without having been to México before this week!

Estela Romero

Angangueo, Michoacán, México

Noviembre, 2019

Above three photos are by Estela Romero

Monarch colony Cerro Pelon, March 2019

 

HAPPY DIA DE MUERTOS!

My daughter Liv sent the photo of the festive Dia de Muertos bread, taken at a bakery in her neighborhood in Venice, CA.

Snowy Owl Ofrenda Dia de Muertos

A FRONT FULL OF MONARCH BUTTERFLIES SWEEPS ACROSS THE COUTRY

You may have seen on social media sites the map of butterflies moving through Oklahoma. This is the original story in which the maps appeared: A front full of butterflies swept through Oklahoma City on Saturday

The line on the map above isn’t rain, but from butterflies and dragonflies. We can surmise based on what has been happening along our shores that the species you see in this front are most likely a swirl of Monarchs, Painted Ladies, and Green Darner Dragonflies. The north easterly winds are carrying the insects south.

Below is a map showing autumn and spring migrations. The orange arrow is the fall migratory route of the Monarchs.Anything red represents rain. Blue indicates more unusual shapes, often biological in origin. Notice behind the “butterfly front” the large spattering of blue. That’s where the insects were. (GR2 Analyst)

CHASING BUTTERFLIES!

I spent the weekend chasing butterflies and will post more about the historical migration we are currently experiencing, along with the fantastic Monarch celebration at The Stevens Coolidge Place in Andover, when I have more than a few moments to write a post.

And I discovered how to find the magical butterfly trees that the migrating Monarchs roost in on cold nights!! More about that, too 🙂

Butterfly tree at day’s end.

SAY WHAT! MONARCHS MATING IN SEPTEMBER???

This pair of Monarchs did not get the 411 that they are supposed to wait until next spring to mate!

Beginning in early spring, Monarchs depart Mexico. They lay eggs of the next generation and then perish. This next generation moves northward depositing their eggs on emerging milkweed. It takes four to five generations to reach the Monarch’s northern breeding grounds, of which Cape Ann is a part. The Monarchs that we see in the early summer only live for about four weeks.

The Monarchs that eclose at the end of the summer are a super generation of Monarchs. Another way to think about them is that they are also referred to as the ‘Methuselah’ Monarchs. This last brood of the summer lives for a very long time for a Monarch, about seven to eight months. The Methuselah Monarchs that we see migrating today will travel south all the way to the trans-volcanic forested mountains of central Mexico. They sleep through the winter in butterfly trees in a state of sexually immaturity known as diapause, then awaken in spring to move northward and deposit eggs of the next generation, thus completing the circle of the Monarch’s life.

So that brings us back to this atypical pair mating in the marshy meadow in September. Every year during the annual southward migration I see at least one pair of Monarchs mating. I wonder, will the pair survive and continue to migrate? Will their offspring survive and travel further south?

Please join me Saturday, October 5th, at 10:30 at The Stevens Coolidge Reservation in Andover for a Monarch Migration Celebration and for my conservation talk about the Monarchs. For more information, see here.

THE DANCE OF COLOR AND LIGHT – MONARCHS ON THE MOVE!

Monarchs were on the move over the weekend, not only on Cape Ann, but all over northern and northeastern regions of the country* very solid numbers of migrating Monarchs are being shared, from Ontario, to upstate New York, Michigan, and Maine.

Lets keep our hopes up for good weather for the Monarchs on the next leg of their journey southward!

*Ninety percent of the Monarch Butterfly migration takes place east of the Rocky Mountains.

If you would like to help support the Monarchs, think about creating a milkweed patch in your garden. The best and most highly productive milkweed for Monarch caterpillars is Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), the milkweed we see growing in our local marshes and dunes. The seed heads are ripe for plucking when they have split open and you can see the brown seeds and beautiful floss.

For several of my readers who have expressed difficulty in germinating milkweed seeds, the following is a foolproof method from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

HOW TO GERMINATE MILKWEEDS

MILKWEEDS (ASCLEPIAS SPP.) ARE NOTORIOUSLY DIFFICULT TO GERMINATE. But don’t despair. The Wildflower Center has developed and tested a protocol that results in good germination rates for a number of our native milkweed species. Follow this process and you’ll soon be on your way to supporting monarchs, bumblebees and tons of other insects that depend on milkweed plants. READ the complete article here.

GOLDEN FLOWER OF THE AZTECS

The brilliant red-orange Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia) is a beneficial pollinator magnet. Plant and they will come! Grow a patch of milkweed next to your Mexican Sunflowers and you will not only attract Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and an array of bee species, but every Monarch Butterfly in the neighborhood will be in your garden.

Its many common names include Red Torch Mexican Sunflower, Bolivian Sunflower, Japanese Sunflower, but one of the loveliest is ‘Golden Flower of the Aztecs.’ Tithonia rotundifolia grows wild in the mountains of Central Mexico and Central America.

Mexican Sunflower is one of my top ten favorites for supporting Monarchs, is extremely easy to grow, and deer do not care for its soft, velvety leaves. Plant in average garden soil, water, and dead head often to extend the blooming period. Ours flower from July through the first frost. Collect the seedheads after the petals have fallen off, but before they dry completely and the songbirds have eaten all the seeds.