Tag Archives: Xerces Society

GUIDELINES ON HOW TO RESPONSIBLY RAISE MONARCHS

The first guideline in becoming an excellent citizen scientist is to do no harm while trying to do good. Considering the spiraling downward numbers of the Monarch Butterfly population, this basic tenet has never rang more true.

A number of friends have written in the past month with questions about captive rearing butterflies and the new listing of the Monarch as an endangered species by the IUCN (International  Union for the Conservation of Nature) and by the state of California. The ruling by the IUCN, which is an organization based in Gland, Switzerland, has no legal bearing on rearing Monarchs however, that is not the case with the California ruling.

In June, a California court ruling opened the door for the protection of insects as endangered species, which now includes the Monarch Butterfly. It is unlawful to take possession of live monarchs, breed and rear them in captivity, and conduct other interventions including covering eggs, larvae, and adult butterflies with nets, and transporting Monarchs to different locations. Canada and Mexico also restrict Monarch handling.

The ruling is understandable. There are folks who are rearing Monarchs by the hundreds, thousands, and even tens of thousands in wholly unsatisfactory conditions, ignoring safe and sanitary protocols.

As goes California, so goes the rest of the nation. I am deeply saddened that it won’t be long before we in the rest of the country will also no longer be able to rear Monarchs, even on the most modest scale.

READ MORE HERE

Monarch Chrysalis ready to eclose – native garden  phlox (Phlox paniculata)

One of the strongest reasons for not rearing hundreds (or more) Monarchs in close quarters is the spread of the highly contagious parasite OE (Ophryocystis elektroscirrha).

“Ophryocystis elektroscirrha (OE) is a debilitating protozoan parasite that infects Monarchs. Infected adult Monarchs harbor thousands or millions of microscopic OE spores on the outside of their bodies. When dormant spores are scattered onto eggs or milkweed leaves by infected adults, Monarch caterpillars consume the spores, and these parasites then replicate inside the larvae and pupae. Monarchs with severe OE infections can fail to emerge successfully from their pupal stage, either because they become stuck or they are too weak to fully expand their wings. Monarchs with mild OE infections can appear normal but live shorter lives and cannot fly was well as healthy Monarchs.” From Monarch Joint Venture

Simply put, the very best way to help Monarchs is to create pollinator habitats on whatever scale you can manage. Plant milkweeds native to your region, which provides food for the caterpillars.*  Plant native wildflowers such as New England Asters, Seaside Goldenrod, and Joe-pye, which provide sustenance to migrating Monarchs and a host of other pollinators. Plant annuals native to Mexico with simple, uncomplicated structures, such as single (not double) Zinnias,Cosmos, and Mexican Sunflowers (Tithonia), which will bring the pollinators into the garden and provide sustenance throughout much of the growing season, while the pollinators are on the wing.

Plants such as daylilies, roses, and dahlias are eye candy for humans. Keep your candy to a minimum and know that they are just that, eye candy. They do not help pollinators in any way, shape, or form.

A Monarch in the wild flits from plant to plant and from leaf to leaf when looking for a suitable milkweed plant on which to deposit her eggs. She is carefully inspecting each leaf, first scratching the surface with her feet, the butterfly’s way of sensing taste. The female will typically deposit no more than one egg or possibly two eggs per leaf or bud. When you see an image of a large cluster of Monarch eggs, you can be sure the female was raised in close quarters in captivity and is desperate to deposit her eggs.

Recommendations from the Xerces Society:

How can I rear monarchs responsibly?

  1. Rear no more than ten Monarchs per year (whether by a single individual or family). This is the same number recommended in the original petition to list the monarch under the Federal Endangered Species Act.
  2. Collect immature Monarchs locally from the wild, heeding collection policies on public lands; never buy or ship monarchs.
  3. Raise Monarchs individually and keep rearing containers clean between individuals by using a 20% bleach solution to avoid spreading diseases or mold.
  4. Provide sufficient milkweed including adding fresh milkweed daily.
  5. Keep rearing containers out of direct sunlight and provide a moist (not wet) paper towel or sponge to provide sufficient, not excessive, moisture.
  6. Release Monarchs where they were collected and at appropriate times of year for your area.
  7. Check out Monarch Joint Venture’s newly updated handout, Rearing Monarchs: Why or Why Not?
  8. Participate in community science, including testing the Monarchs you raise for OE and tracking parasitism rates.

Monarch Butterfly newly emerged and expanding wings

Monarch newly emerged and sun drying wings

*Best milkweeds native to Cape Ann, in order of productivity: Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), Marsh Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), and Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa)

 

 

BEAUTY ON THE WING WINS GOLD AT THE SPOTLIGHT DOCUMENTARY FILM AWARDS!

Dear Monarch Friends,

Good news to share for Beauty on the Wing – Many thanks to the Spotlight Documentary Film Awards for the gold award! And starting in February, Beauty on the Wing will begin airing on public television stations across the country. As soon as I have dates, I will write and let you know 🙂

Fantastic news for our West Coast population of Monarchs – Tuesday, January 25th, the Xerces Society released the outcome of the 2021-2022 Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count, an organized group of volunteer community scientists that has been cataloging the Western Monarchs for over 25 years. In a remarkable turn of events the final winter tally of 247, 237 butterflies were counted across the West, a 100- fold increase from last year’s count and the highest recorded since 2016!

Insect populations can fluctuate widely from year to year and the Monarchs are by no means out of the woods. In an otherwise bleak outlook for the West Coast population, this is a positive note and gives us hope that we can make the necessary changes to prevent the extirpation of the Western population.

Read the full report here

We’re expecting a classic nor’easter snowstorm this weekend while last weekend we had an exquisite “ocean effect” snowfall, which was lovely and magical. I am teaching myself a new film editing program and used the B-roll that I shot during the fairy-like snowstorm at Hammond Castle. Link to new short film  – Hammond Castle-by-the-Sea.

Stay warm and safe and Happy Snow Days!

xoKim

 


BUTTERFLIES IN THE NEWS – BUTTERFLIES “CLAP” THEIR WINGS AND THE DEMISE OF THE WEST COAST MONARCH

I read the following article with great interest “Butterflies fly using efficient propulsive clap mechanism owing to flexible wings”.

Subsequent reports have come out with headlines such as “Butterfly wing claps explain mystery of flight” and“Natural wonder: Wing ‘clap’ solves mystery of butterfly flight”

Butterfly wings come in all shapes, sizes, and degree of flexibility. They have evolved with a range of mechanisms and strategies in flight. Butterflies such as the Silver-washed Fritillary (see video below) and Yellow Sulphur clap their wings frequently, but other butterflies, the Monarch Butterfly for example, does not “clap”  their wings every time they take flight. The Monarch’s wings create an open cup shape, operating in more of a figure eight pattern.

Scientist have known about butterfly wing clapping for more than fifty years. I don’t think a mystery has been solved by the recent study from Sweden’s Lund University nonetheless, the articles are interesting to read.

 

In the above video you can see in the first few frames when the Monarch is taking off that its wings do not clap.

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On a more terrifying note, the Western Monarch population has become nearly entirely extirpated from its historic range. A recently published article from the Xerces Society “Western Monarch Population Closer to Extinction as the Wait Continues for Monarchs’ Protection Under the Endangered Species Act”reports a 99.9 percent decrease in population since the 1980s. Only 1,914 Monarchs were located during the annual Thanksgiving Butterfly Count.

Monarchs at the Goleta Butterfly Grove, 2015

In 2015, when my daughter Liv was living in Santa Monica, she and I took a day trip to the Goleta Butterfly Grove, just outside of Santa Barbara.

Goleta Butterfly Grove

The butterflies were, for the most part, sleeping quietly  in the Eucalyptus trees. A few were fluttering about, drinking nectar from the Cape Honeysuckle (Tecoma capensis) growing nearby.

Non-native nectar source for Monarchs, Cape Honeysuckle

The Western Monarch Butterfly demise has been in the making for decades. The Ecaplytus trees the butterflies were roosting in appeared stressed. Eucalyptus trees are not native to California and are highly flammable. I wondered at the time why the forest couldn’t be underplanted with native tree and also wondered exactly what were the trees the butterflies may have historically roosted in.

With unbridled development that has lead to loss of habitat, forest fires, a warming climate, and the use of deadly pesticides and herbicides in this American breadbasket to the world, is it really a mystery as to why the butterflies are nearly extirpated from California.Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count Data 1997-2020 shows that despite a strong volunteer effort, monarch numbers are at the lowest point recorded since the count started in 1997.