Monarch Watch Blog

Monarch Caterpillar Dorsal Aorta (video)

29 March 2011 | Author: Chip Taylor

serendipity [ser-uhn-dip-i-tee] -noun.
1. an aptitude for making unexpected and fortunate discoveries

Occasionally, there is a little serendipity in the lab. One Friday, a few weeks ago, I noticed an unusual larva, a fourth instar of a “black” larval mutation we are studying. This particular larva was lighter than most and we could see the blood coursing through the dorsal aorta. I said “Let’s get a camera, this is neat!”

In the course of doing the filming, and not doing it well, I kept getting advice from one of our critter crew members Alicia Bigelow, and I soon realized (another bit of serendipity) that Alicia needed to be in charge of the production of video projects that I’ve always wanted to post to Monarch Watch’s YouTube channel. So, here is the first production: the Monarch Caterpillar Dorsal Aorta. In the voice-over I describe the general pattern of blood circulation in insects and arthropods. Chip Taylor | Director, Monarch Watch

Filed under Monarch Biology | 13 Comments »

Book Review: “Fly, Fly Butterfly”

24 January 2011 | Author: Chip Taylor

Fly, Fly Butterfly book cover

“Fly, Fly Butterfly” by Diego H. Pedreros Velásquez

Interest in monarch butterflies has grown over the last 15 years. Websites featuring monarchs are now common. Monarchs are the subject of numerous blog postings and periodically the topic of newspaper and magazine articles as well. This interest has also produced an abundance of books about monarchs directed toward parents who might buy them for their children. The quality of these books varies greatly. Some have great artwork and not much of a story, others have a good premise but poor execution and still others are filled with errors – the most common of which is to refer to a chrysalis as a cocoon.

The intent of authors is usually to tell the story of the monarch to inspire a sense of wonder; rarely do authors connect the story to larger issues such as our stewardship of the planet. Most of these stories don’t touch me. I’m jaded, having worked with literally tens of thousands of monarchs and having lent my heavy hand to telling this story myself. So, my emotional reaction to a new book, “Fly, Fly Butterfly” by Diego H. Pedreros Velásquez was a surprise to me.

Mr. Pedreros has written an account of his family’s – and particularly his daughter AmaRa’s – discovery of monarchs and their annual cycle through visits to the Ellwood Main monarch sanctuary in Goleta, California. The family’s increasing awareness of monarchs and the environment that supports them is driven by AmaRa’s curiosity, with the help of an equally curious and devoted father.

The author uses the monarch as a metaphor for how we should face life and connects the fate of monarchs to how humans affect the planet. Excellent photographs by the author of monarchs and wildlife around Goleta are tastefully presented on more than half the book’s pages. The design, layout and artwork in the book capture the sense of wonder and adventure of learning about new things through the eyes of both the child and her father. It’s clear that this book was a labor of love that involved a large and talented team. Perhaps the book’s most unique feature is that it is bilingual, with all the text printed in both English and Spanish, with other languages soon to follow. The writing is clear and direct and it is easy to read and understand the text in both languages. In this age, as we watch our population become increasingly disconnected from the environment that supports them and when it is so hard to get children outside, it is refreshing to have this example of a child connecting spontaneously to the wonders of the natural world.

The book may be purchased with a donation component, whereby 40% of the $20 purchase price may be designated to go to Monarch Watch or another approved organization. For more information on “Fly, Fly Monarch” please visit www.forlymonarch.com

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Mead’s Milkweed and Monarchs

20 January 2011 | Author: Chip Taylor

From time to time the question arises as to whether monarchs can and do use all species of milkweeds in the genus Asclepias or whether there are some that are too toxic or have so much latex that larvae are unable to feed properly and die. There could even be some species that lack the chemistry that allows the larvae to even start feeding. Stated another way, it seems possible that some milkweeds might have become as unpalatable to monarchs as they have to other herbivores. It would be valuable to know the answer to this question but we will have to gather more data on what species females chose to lay eggs upon and whether larvae successfully feed and reach the adult stage on a number of species.

There are 72 species of native milkweeds in the genus Asclepias found in the United States. Monarchs use about 30 of these species as host plants with some regularity. Little is known however about the use of many species, particularly the more than 20 that have limited distributions including a number that are rare and endangered. I live in a county (Douglas County, KS) in which 13 species of Asclepias have been recorded. I know locations for 12 of these within the county and have found monarch eggs and larvae on 9 of the 12 species. Two of the three species without eggs or larvae, A. stenophylla (slim leaf milkweed) and A. amplexicaulis (clasping milkweed), are relatively uncommon in the prairie meadows I’ve visited and I’ve always assumed that the lack of evidence of use by monarchs was just a matter of numbers with monarchs simply laying eggs on the most abundant and apparent species. I also knew that monarchs use A. amplexicaulis as a host in other areas.

I reached a similar conclusion with regard to the third species, the rare and endangered Mead’s milkweed, A. meadii. I’ve actually encountered many more plants of this species than of the previous two but again no monarch larvae on any of these plants. Mead’s milkweed is a poor choice as a host, most plants have 6 rather small leaves, the nodding flower-head, if present, is relatively large but overall it seems unlikely that there is enough foliage on a Mead’s milkweed for a single larvae to complete its development. I know better than to speculate that monarch females are smart enough to avoid plants with insufficient foliage but still I had looked at a lot of these plants (hundreds) over the years with nary an egg or larva sighted. So it was with some surprise that I learned that two biologists, Steve Roels (a graduate student at the University of Kansas) and Dr. Retha Meier (Saint Louis University), who study Mead’s milkweed had observed monarch larvae on these plants. I asked Dr. Meier to write up her observations. Here is her report along with two images. Steve Roels provided a third image.

Mead’s Milkweed and Monarchs
By Dr. Retha Meier

Dr. Peter Bernhardt and I began the first season of a three-year study on the pollination of the threatened, Mead’s milkweed (Asclepias meadii) in May 2010. The population we observed grows in a prairie near Garnett, Kansas. Mead’s milkweed is easily overlooked, even where it is common. Each year a plant produces a single, thin, graceful stem that ends in an umbel made up of 5-14 nodding, greenish-colored flowers. Nectar gushes from the horns of these flowers and measures more than 50% dissolved sugar in some flowers. We also discovered that Mead’s milkweed flowers emit an unusually pleasant and spicy fragrance similar to oil of cloves. Nectar and odor must have attracted the monarchs to the dangling blossoms because we watched on numerous occasions as these insects positioned themselves upside-down to drink. While searching for more Mead’s in this diverse prairie we often found it was easier to just follow monarchs to previously unmarked stems in bloom.

One morning while Dr. Bernhardt was measuring floral nectar he discovered that some monarchs were doing something more than drinking. They were laying eggs. He found small stages of the larvae consuming the flowers including the nectar-rich horns. Only one caterpillar was found per umbel but even an early instar, less than 5 mm in length, was capable of doing a considerable amount of damage as it began feeding on the flowers. As flower consumption continued, the small instar grew into a much larger caterpillar that eventually eliminated all the flowers on the umbel. Here we have an example of a much-loved insect spending a most important part of its life-cycle on an increasingly endangered plant. Monarchs didn’t pollinate Mead’s milkweed on the Kansas prairie. Capture and release procedures showed that their mouth-parts and legs were free of the distinctive pollen packets (pollinaria) of their wildflower host. That honor, we’ve learned, belongs to a few, chunky native bees like the Anthophora abrupta.

monarch on milkweed

monarch on milkweed

Steve Roels added the following observations:

Retha’s observations about monarchs on the Welda are similar to my own. Interestingly, monarch herbivory was extremely common on the Welda this year (I believe I saw caterpillars on 10-15 of the 50 stems I was monitoring) but monarchs have been much less frequent on the KU field station Mead’s the last two years. I’m not sure if the difference is due to different butterfly population levels or that plants are easier to find on the Welda because the vegetation is shorter and less dense, making plants easier to find. When caterpillars are present, they can do a tremendous amount of damage, sometimes completely stripping the stem of leaves and buds. They seem to prefer the buds, or perhaps eggs are more frequently oviposited there, and generally the caterpillars work their way from the top of the plant downwards. However, sometimes I have seen caterpillars present one day and then they are gone a few days later, perhaps shuffling off to find a more suitable host plant or getting picked off by some predator. Monarchs did reduce the Welda Mead’s population’s reproductive output to some extent this year but I suspect Cycnia inopinatus is more of a widespread problem for Mead’s.

As far as I know, no one has done any work on the chemical profile of Mead’s as compared to other milkweeds, which could be relevant for a number of herbivores. I considered pursuing this route, but I have plenty of projects as it is. I do wonder if it has lower levels of toxic compounds than other species because deer herbivory at the field station is extremely high in the early spring and I have never seen any deer damage to A. syriaca and only very rarely, if at all, on A. viridis. Some other milkweeds do suffer from the deer including a dense 8′x4′ patch of A. purpurascens that was completely razed last year at the field station.

monarch on milkweed


Additional references for Mead’s milkweed:
http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=ASME
http://www.fws.gov/midwest/endangered/plants/pdf/meads-fnl-rp.pdf

Filed under Monarch Biology | 3 Comments »

Our Amazon Earnings – December 2010

4 January 2011 | Author: Jim Lovett

Last month we mentioned that November 2010 was our biggest Amazon/Endless month to date…well, December left November eating dust as it blew past it to become yet another record-breaking month: 250 items ordered & $444.12 for Monarch Watch. Thank you!

As you may already know, you can help support Monarch Watch with each purchase at Amazon.com and Endless.com (Amazon’s specialized Shoe and Handbag store). Monarch Watch earns a small referral fee equal to 4-15% of the item total when you use the links available on our site to visit these online stores.

In December the following items were ordered in support of Monarch Watch:

Category # Items Referral Fees
Apparel & Accessories
3
4.67
Beauty
6
4.91
Books
62
55.82
Computers
1
25.00
DVD
17
26.66
Electronics
19
44.61
Grocery
9
21.24
Health & Personal Care
11
12.93
Health & Personal Care Appliances
2
4.24
Jewelry
2
2.00
Kindle eBooks
4
1.11
Kindle Hardware
2
19.46
Kitchen & Housewares
28
63.72
Magazine Subscriptions
1
1.40
MP3 Downloads
11
1.94
Music
14
25.51
Musical Instruments
9
16.53
Office Products
2
1.49
Other
5
16.30
Pet Supplies
3
4.55
Shoes
4
20.97
Sports & Outdoors
5
19.50
Tools & Hardware
6
16.94
Toys & Games
19
18.19
Video Games
4
13.27
Watches
1
1.16
Total 250 $444.12

amazon stats graph

Since February 2009: 1849 items ordered and $2935.51 for Monarch Watch!

Thank you to everyone who contributed to these numbers – remember to stop by our site first whenever you shop online!

Complete details are available at monarchwatch.org/amazon

Please help us by spreading the word to friends, family, coworkers, and any other Amazon.com or Endless.com shoppers you can think of – thank you for your continued support!

Filed under amazon.com | No Comments »

Mexico Travel Advisory

20 December 2010 | Author: Monarch Watch

We have received a number of inquiries from people who want to know if it is safe to travel to Mexico, specifically to visit the monarch overwintering colonies near Angangueo (El Rosario and Sierra Chincua), Zitacuaro (Cerro Pelon), and Valle de Bravo (Herrada). Most people know of the conflicts among the drug cartels and between the army and these cartels. Most of the violence associated with these conflicts occurs in the Mexican cities and states bordering the United States but some occurs in the states of Michoacan and Mexico, where the overwintering monarchs reside, and in scattered locations along the Pacific coast. It used to be safe to drive into Mexico from the United States and I’ve done it at least 30 times without incident. However, driving into Mexico is no longer safe and should not be attempted. While most of the violence involves cartel members attacking each other and fighting with federal troops, a number of students and visitors to northern Mexico have been killed.

Tours to the monarch overwintering sites are still accepting applications and if you would like to visit Mexico this winter to see the monarchs, we advise you to join one of the tours rather than renting a car. Foreign tourists have not been targeted and traveling in groups should be safer than traveling alone.

Five groups we are aware of (there may be others) that are still booking tours appear below. If you go on one of these tours, please give us a report about your impression of the number and condition of the monarchs and let us know of your experience in general.

Florida Museum of Natural History – led by Dr. Tom Emmel
www.flmnh.ufl.edu/butterflies/mexico_feb2011.htm

Beyond Backyard Adventures – led by Bonnie Chase and Dr. Bill Calvert
beyondyourbackyardadventures.com/mexico.shtm

Rocamar Tours – led by Paul and Phill Justice
rocamar.com.mx

ECOLIFE Foundation tours – led by Bill Toone
ecolifefoundation.org/travel/monarchtrip.html

Natural Habitat Adventures
nathab.com/latinamerica/monarch-butterfly-migration


U. S. Department of State Travel Warning
The U. S. Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs (travel.state.gov/) provides a lot of good information for those traveling abroad, including a current “Travel Warnings” page. So what exactly is a travel warning?

“Travel Warnings are issued when long-term, protracted conditions that make a country dangerous or unstable lead the State Department to recommend that Americans avoid or consider the risk of travel to that country. A Travel Warning is also issued when the U.S. Government’s ability to assist American citizens is constrained due to the closure of an embassy or consulate or because of a drawdown of its staff.”

On September 10, 2010 Mexico was added to this list which, as of this writing, includes 30 other countries. Please see the Mexico Travel Warning page for complete information.

Filed under Mexico | 1 Comment »

Plant Fundraisers

14 December 2010 | Author: Monarch Watch

Bring Back The MonarchsIn case you haven’t gone through the text on our Bring Back The Monarchs website, one of the things we are trying to facilitate is helping anyone who holds plant fundraisers (nature centers, zoos, native plant societies, schools, etc.) acquire wholesale plants, particularly milkweeds, that can be sold at these events.

We recently received an email from a teacher who wants our help acquiring plants for a spring plant fundraiser that is going to be held at her school. We are contacting nurseries all over the country who grow milkweeds to see what is available. We are careful to identify to the sources of seeds used for plugs to be sure that plugs used for restoration were grown from seeds from the same ecological region.

We need more letters like the one below. Our mission in this project is to help these types of fundraising projects and to promote the planting of milkweeds in both gardens and in areas that can be restored.

If you know of anyone planning a plant fundraiser in 2011, please let them know of our goals and willingness to help them with these projects. Thank You!

Greetings:

I am a teacher at USD 504 Service Valley Charter Academy in Oswego, Kansas.

I attended the spring open house at KU last year and purchased a lot of plants to put in our school registered Monarch Waystation that we created.

I read on the Monarch Watch facebook page about the Bring Back The Monarchs program and our school is very interested in setting up a plant fund raiser for Southeast Kansas. Our school received charter funds 3 years ago. Our charter is built around the use of agriculture to reach our students and this would fit very well into our program. We have a greenhouse on school grounds and would like information on ordering plants wholesale through Monarch Watch.

We have had community individuals stop by the school asking about purchasing milkweed and I am very excited about the possibility of making plants available to our region of the state.

I share the passion of Monarch Watch and this will give my classroom and school a chance to increase awareness in our corner of Kansas.

Thanks for your assistance.

Theresa

Filed under Monarch Conservation | No Comments »

Our Amazon Earnings – November 2010

13 December 2010 | Author: Jim Lovett

Wow – another record-breaking month!

November was our biggest month to date…thank you!

As you may already know, you can help support Monarch Watch with each purchase at Amazon.com and Endless.com (Amazon’s specialized Shoe and Handbag store). Monarch Watch earns a small referral fee equal to 4-15% of the item total when you use the links available on our site to visit these online stores.

In November the following items were ordered in support of Monarch Watch:

Category # Items Referral Fees
Beauty 2 4.30
Books 42 40.32
Cell Phones & Service 1 0.42
DVD 9 9.07
Electronics 22 58.59
Grocery 9 12.21
Health & Personal Care 5 8.23
Health & Personal Care Appliances 4 2.52
Home & Garden 7 10.55
Kindle eBooks 7 2.98
Kindle Hardware 1 9.73
Kitchen & Housewares 17 37.38
Music 4 3.95
Office Products 2 1.54
Other 4 8.08
Pet Supplies 2 2.20
Shoes 2 10.10
Software 1 4.55
Sports & Outdoors 4 6.19
Tools & Hardware 5 7.29
Toys & Games 10 9.95
Video Games 2 7.07
Watches 1 0.33
Total 163 $257.55

amazon stats graph

Since February 2009: 1599 items ordered and $2491.79 for Monarch Watch!

Thank you to everyone who contributed to these numbers – remember to stop by our site first whenever you shop online!

Complete details are available at monarchwatch.org/amazon

Please help us by spreading the word to friends, family, coworkers, and any other Amazon.com or Endless.com shoppers you can think of – thank you for your continued support!

Filed under amazon.com | No Comments »

Our Amazon Earnings – October 2010

5 November 2010 | Author: Jim Lovett

As you may already know, you can help support Monarch Watch with each purchase at Amazon.com and Endless.com (Amazon’s specialized Shoe and Handbag store). Monarch Watch earns a small referral fee equal to 4-15% of the item total when you use the links available on our site to visit these online stores.

In October the following items were ordered in support of Monarch Watch:

Category # Items Referral Fees
Apparel & Accessories 2 1.82
Beauty 7 11.03
Books 22 21.12
Cell Phones & Service 3 0.99
DVD 7 8.57
Electronics 6 38.30
Grocery 1 2.12
Health & Personal Care 12 9.32
Health & Personal Care Appliances 3 3.60
Kindle eBooks 4 1.77
Kindle Hardware 1 12.29
Kitchen & Housewares 7 15.46
Miscellaneous 2 2.34
Music 2 1.47
Musical Instruments 1 0.97
Office Products 2 9.12
Pet Supplies 1 3.29
Shoes 2 34.70
Sports & Outdoors -1 -1.08
Tools & Hardware 1 1.89
Toys & Games 5 7.09
VHS 1 0.65
Video Games 1 3.90
Total 92 $190.73

amazon stats graph

Since February 2009: 1436 items ordered and $2234.24 for Monarch Watch!

Thank you to everyone who contributed to these numbers – remember to stop by our site first whenever you shop online!

Complete details are available at monarchwatch.org/amazon

Please help us by spreading the word to friends, family, coworkers, and any other Amazon.com or Endless.com shoppers you can think of – thank you for your continued support!

Filed under amazon.com | No Comments »

Our Amazon Earnings – September 2010

4 October 2010 | Author: Jim Lovett

As you may already know, you can help support Monarch Watch with each purchase at Amazon.com and Endless.com (Amazon’s specialized Shoe and Handbag store). Monarch Watch earns a small referral fee equal to 4-15% of the item total when you use the links available on our site to visit these online stores.

In September the following items were ordered in support of Monarch Watch:

Category # Items Referral Fees
Automotive 2 1.37
Beauty 7 4.44
Books 72 52.03
Cell Phones & Service 1 4.55
DVD 14 15.58
Electronics 7 18.22
Grocery 5 6.62
Health & Personal Care 6 5.16
Kindle Hardware 1 9.73
Kitchen & Housewares 10 38.72
Miscellaneous 1 7.88
MP3 Downloads 2 0.60
Music 7 6.13
Musical Instruments 3 4.06
Other 2 1.00
Pet Supplies 4 4.13
Sports & Outdoors 3 4.01
Tools & Hardware 4 5.64
Toys & Games 9 12.51
Total 160 $202.38

amazon stats graph

Since February 2009: 1344 items ordered and $2043.51 for Monarch Watch!

Thank you to everyone who contributed to these numbers – remember to stop by our site first whenever you shop online!

Complete details are available at monarchwatch.org/amazon

Please help us by spreading the word to friends, family, coworkers, and any other Amazon.com or Endless.com shoppers you can think of – thank you for your continued support!

Filed under amazon.com | No Comments »

Our Amazon Earnings – August 2010

3 September 2010 | Author: Jim Lovett

As you may already know, you can help support Monarch Watch with each purchase at Amazon.com and Endless.com (Amazon’s specialized Shoe and Handbag store). Monarch Watch earns a small referral fee equal to 4-15% of the item total when you use the links available on our site to visit these online stores.

In August the following items were ordered in support of Monarch Watch:

Category # Items Referral Fees
Apparel & Accessories 1 2.07
Automotive 4 1.72
Beauty 2 2.52
Books 41 46.17
Cell Phones & Service 3 4.41
DVD 5 6.14
Electronics 9 15.24
Grocery 7 13.16
Health & Personal Care 7 9.75
Kindle eBooks 7 2.55
Kitchen & Housewares 4 38.15
Miscellaneous 1 1.85
MP3 Downloads 4 0.40
Music 8 6.00
Office Products 1 0.14
Pet Supplies 4 6.06
Shoes 2 9.67
Tools & Hardware 3 3.35
Toys & Games 1 4.90
VHS 3 0.46
Total 117 $174.71

amazon stats graph

Since February 2009: 1184 items ordered and $1841.13 for Monarch Watch!

Thank you to everyone who contributed to these numbers – remember to stop by our site first whenever you shop online!

Complete details are available at monarchwatch.org/amazon

Please help us by spreading the word to friends, family, coworkers, and any other Amazon.com or Endless.com shoppers you can think of – thank you for your continued support!

Filed under amazon.com | No Comments »