Monarch Watch Blog

Monarch Watch Update November 2020

Monday, November 30th, 2020 at 5:17 pm by Jim Lovett
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Greetings Monarch Watchers!

Here’s a brief update as we head into the holiday season – stay safe!

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1. Monarch Population Status —by Chip Taylor
In recent years, I’ve written extensively about the development of the monarch population from early March through September, often ending with predictions about the size of the overwintering population. My observations and comments have been few this year because there just hasn’t been much to say. The pattern of recolonization and population development from March to early June was modest at best in the Upper Midwest and disappointing in the Northeast. Recolonization was followed by a hot summer (June–August) in both the Upper Midwest (2.7°F above average) and the Northeast (3.2°F above average). Mean summer temperatures greater than 2°F in the Upper Midwest are usually associated with low numbers of migrants and a decline from the previous year in overwintering numbers. Spring and summer conditions, including the quantity and quality of host and nectar sources available, determine the number of migrants.

In terms of production, the best reports of monarch numbers late in the summer were from west of 90°W (west of Madison, Wisconsin) and mostly north of Iowa. That’s a small area of high productivity relative to most years.

To get a better sense of the size of the migration each year, Jim Lovett, who compiles the tagging data, began keeping notes on tagging success in 2018. Although the data for this past tagging season is still arriving, the preliminary information suggests that taggers were less successful this year. For example, when asked if they had used all their tags, 33% said yes last year to only 26% so far this year. We’ll have more statistics to share in future updates.

There were some good things underway this fall. The migration was not late, as it was last year, and there was no shortage of nectar this year due to a drought in Texas and northeast Mexico. Both the lateness of the migration and the Texas drought were factors that contributed to the low numbers of migrants reaching the overwintering sites in Mexico last year. Monarchs were more or less on time this year with conditions more like those seen in the mid 1990s than seen in recent years. They also arrived in late October in time for the Day of the Dead (November 1–2).

Overall, my expectation is that survival of monarchs using the central flyway should be relatively high this year. Still, the numbers at the overwintering sites will be relatively low. I’ll be surprised, and pleased, if the total population measures over 2 hectares. That said, my record shows that I tend to underestimate the count.

2. Restoring milkweeds for monarchs
Our mission is to sustain the monarch migration and that means restoring milkweeds to landscapes from which they have been eliminated or creating new locations for milkweeds.

We work with 5 partner nurseries to distribute 2- to 4-month-old milkweed plugs for restoration and garden projects in most of the continental U.S. These plants can be used for 1) restoration projects through our free milkweed program, underwritten by generous donors, 2) through our free milkweeds for schools and non-profits, another program supported by donations or 3) purchased directly through our Milkweed Market.

Since 2010, we have distributed over 1 million milkweed plugs through these programs. Six-hundred thousand of these plants have been planted in restoration sites of 2 acres or more since 2015. Milkweeds have also been distributed to over 950 schools and non-profits. Many private and public gardens with milkweeds have been created and registered as part of our Monarch Waystation program as well. Monarchs, pollinators and many species that share the same resources benefit from these efforts. You can contribute to monarch conservation by planting milkweeds or donating to support these efforts.

Free Milkweeds for Habitat Restoration on sites of 2 acres or more

Free Milkweeds for Schools and Non-profits

Milkweeds for Private or Public Gardens and other projects (pre-orders begin in January)

Donate to Monarch Watch (GivingTuesday is December 1st!)

3. Submitting Tag Data
Thousands of you have already submitted your 2020 season tag data to us by mail or via our online submission form – thank you! If you haven’t submitted your data yet (from any season) please review the “Submitting Your Tagging Data” information on the tagging program page then send us your data at your earliest convenience via the Tagging Data Submission Form.

Complete information is available at if you have questions about submitting your data to us and we have conveniently placed a large orange “Submit Your Tagging Data” button on our homepage at that will take you directly to the online form.

There you can upload your data sheets as an Excel or other spreadsheet file (PREFERRED; download a template file from or a PDF/image file (scan or photo).

If you have any questions about getting your data to us, please feel free to drop Jim a line anytime via JLOVETT@KU.EDU

About This Monarch Watch List
Monarch Watch ( is a nonprofit education, conservation, and research program affiliated with the Kansas Biological Survey at the University of Kansas. The program strives to provide the public with information about the biology of monarch butterflies, their spectacular migration, and how to use monarchs to further science education in primary and secondary schools. Monarch Watch engages in research on monarch migration biology and monarch population dynamics to better understand how to conserve the monarch migration and also promotes the protection of monarch habitats throughout North America.

We rely on private contributions to support the program and we need your help! Please consider making a tax-deductible donation. Complete details are available at or you can simply call 785-832-7374 (KU Endowment Association) for more information about giving to Monarch Watch.

If you have any questions about this update or any of our programs, please feel free to contact us anytime.

Thank you for your continued interest and support!

Jim Lovett
Monarch Watch

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