Monarch Watch Blog

A Bit of Monarch History

Friday, January 24th, 2014 at 5:20 pm by Monarch Watch
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by Ilse Gebhard, Monarch Watch Conservation Specialist

I recently received a folder labeled “National Butterfly” from a Kalamazoo Area Wild Ones member. He had found it while working on a project documenting the history of Michigan State University’s Kellogg Biological Station in Augusta, Michigan.

The contents of the folder covered an aspect of monarch history all new to me, as it occurred in 1989, about 10 years before I really became involved with monarchs and 3 years before the founding of Monarch Watch.

For its 100-year anniversary in 1989, the Entomological Society of America (ESA) decided that the country needed a National Insect and they voted the monarch as its choice, representing about 600 species of butterflies and at that time nearly 90,000 other insect species that are an integral part of the natural heritage of the United States. They were well aware, nearly 25 years ago, that monarchs were declining in numbers under pressure from urbanization and loss of habitat resulting in the reduction of milkweeds and overwintering groves of trees in California and Mexico.

ESA put out a very nice colored brochure covering monarch history, biology, migration, ecology, and conservation of overwintering sites. The brochure includes a very impressive list of sponsoring organizations:

• Entomological Society of America (ESA)
• American Registry of Professional Entomologists
• American Institute of Biological Sciences
• Connecticut Entomological Society
• Lepidopterist Society
• National Audubon Society
• National Wildlife Federation
• New York Entomological Society
• The Nature Conservancy
• The Wildlife Society
• Xerxes Society

In addition the folder contains letters of support from:

• Kentucky Academy of Science
• American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums
• The American Entomological Society (AES)
• Kansas Associated Garden Clubs, Inc.

The ESA apparently worked very hard to promote the monarch as National Insect. The contents of the folder (the brochure plus 9 pages) were a packet of info that they sent out to various organizations asking them and their members to support this endeavor. One such organization was the Kellogg Bird Sanctuary, as per cover letter in the folder.

To me the most interesting document in the folder is a copy of H.J. RES. 411, a Joint Resolution introduced into the House of Representatives on September 27, 1989 by Representative Leon Panetta from California. Representative Panetta was born in Monterey, a well-known overwintering site of the Western US monarch population, and was elected from his native district. It was referred to the Committee on Post Office and Civil Service and by January 31, 1990 it had nine cosponsors. Not having found any further info on the resolution by a web search, I assume it died for lack of cosponsors.

The above-mentioned letter of support from the Kentucky Academy of Science states that they will pursue the adoption of the monarch as the State Insect. I guess that was not to be either, as a web search shows the viceroy to be its State Insect adopted in 1990 – close, but not the real thing. On the other hand, the monarch is the State Insect of Alabama, Idaho, Illinois and Texas and the State Butterfly of Minnesota, Vermont and West Virginia. Interestingly, 15 states have the non-native honeybee as their State Insect, 1 state lists it as their State Bug, and 2 states list it as their State Agricultural Insect. Five states have neither a State Butterfly, Insect or Bug.

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