Saving Our Monarch Butterflies, part 1

Guest post by Jim Steele


published in the Pacifica Tribune January 28, 2020

What’s Natural

With their clownishly colored caterpillars and bold black and orange adults, monarch butterflies get featured in most children’s nature books. Monarch’s ability to migrate thousands of miles, is one of nature’s greatest wonders. But worrisomely, monarch abundance plummeted by 90% over the past 2 decades. Fearing monarchs could be vulnerable to extinction, the US Fish and Wildlife was petitioned in 2014 to list monarchs as “Threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. But due to several contentious issues, more extensive studies were needed. A determination is now expected by the end of 2020. So, what is killing monarchs?

In the 1970s scientists discovered that virtually the entire population of monarchs that breed east of the Rocky Mountains, migrate to extremely small patches of high mountain forests in central Mexico. There they spend the winter from November to March. Since the early 1990s, scientists began estimating monarch abundance by measuring the areas occupied by wintering butterflies. The greatest winter abundance, estimated in 1997, was confined to an area equal to 40 football fields. By 2013, wintering monarchs occupied less than 2 football fields.


In January 2002, a winter storm brought cold rains followed by clear skies. Without the clouds’ greenhouse effect, clear skies allowed temperatures to plummet to 23°F (- 4°C). Still damp, millions of butterflies simply froze in place. Many millions more fell to the ground creating an eerie carpet of dead and dying butterflies several inches deep. Altogether, 500 million butterflies died that winter, killing 80% of the entire eastern population. That the survival of the entire eastern monarch population could hinge on conditions affecting such a small area became a huge concern.


A carpet of dead Monarchs. from Brower (2002) in

Catastrophic Winter Storm Mortality of Monarch Butterflies in

Such devastating effects from freezing storms emphasized the need to protect the forests where monarchs spend their winters. The intact forest canopy creates a microclimate that had protected monarchs for hundreds of thousands of years. A closed canopy inhibits freezing. But recent logging opened the canopy and enhanced rapid cooling. The Mexican government eventually agreed to ban all logging wherever the butterflies overwinter. Nonetheless, there has always been significant winter storm fatalities. So, a few degrees of global warming would minimize those cold weather massacres.

(In contrast, monarchs breeding west of the Rocky Mountains migrate to forests along the coast of California each winter where freezing is not a concern. The bad news, populations are still collapsing, and monarchs choose to winter in introduced Eucalyptus trees that many people try to eradicate. It remains to be seen how Eucalyptus will be managed.)

Every scientist agrees 2 key factors are reducing monarch abundance. First is degradation of wintering habitat. Second is the loss of milkweed, the caterpillars’ only food plant. The good news is humans are working to restore landscapes to benefit monarchs. However, media outlets hyping a climate crisis, falsely claim climate change is thwarting our attempts to protect the monarchs. But whether global warming is natural or man-made, warmth benefits monarch survival.

Despite horrific winter losses, monarch populations can rapidly rebound. Surviving adults leave their Mexican wintering grounds in March, and soon arrive to breed in Texas and other Gulf Coast regions. They lay eggs, then die. One female can lay up to 1100 eggs. However, for each female, perhaps 40 eggs survive to produce the next generation of females. Depending on temperature, the transformation from egg to adult takes 30 days. Wherever temperatures are favorable, 3 to 4 more generations can be produced throughout the summer. So, a single female arriving in Texas can eventually give rise to 6400 adults by the 3rd generation.

Temperature controls much of monarch growth. Overall, warmer temperatures increase the speed of development, with an optimal temperature approaching 84°F. If temperatures fall below 53°F then eggs, caterpillars and pupa stop growing. If temperatures exceed 91°F, they also stop growing. But research shows if exposed to higher temperatures for just a few hours, there are no detrimental effects.

Monarchs also actively control their body temperature. Caterpillars feed on the top of milkweed leaves during cool weather to enhance warming by the sun, but feed underneath the leaves as temperatures rise. If midday temperatures get too hot, caterpillars seek shelter in shaded leaf litter.

Monarchs linger in their Mexican winter habitat waiting for optimal spring-time temperatures to develop in the USA’s Gulf Coast states. As summer conditions become too warm along the Gulf Coast, monarchs then migrate northward. Favorable warm temperatures, in places like Kansas, allow 4 new generations each year. Further north in cooler Minnesota, only 2 generations are possible. Thus, favorably warmer temperatures allow more generations per year, and more generations allow the monarch’s abundance to multiply and quickly rebound from their winter losses. The 2019 winter count determined wintering monarchs tripled their abundance from their 2013 low point.


Of course, each generation is also dependent on their food plant abundance, which landscape changes and pesticides greatly affect; a topic for part 2.

Jim Steele is Director emeritus of San Francisco State’s Sierra Nevada Field Campus and authored Landscapes and Cycles: An Environmentalist’s Journey to Climate Skepticism

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January 30, 2020 10:20 am

So,global warming is good. Ask Greta if she wants to save the monarch.

Robert Kral
January 30, 2020 10:22 am

We usually have large numbers of monarchs coming through our part of Texas in the fall. There were not nearly as many last fall, which is a cause of concern for me. There were some very bad storms in October, and that may have had an effect.

Reply to  Robert Kral
January 31, 2020 12:17 am

I wonder how many die on the blades of wind turbines. Has anyone ever looked into this?

Johann Wundersamer
Reply to  Robert Kral
February 11, 2020 12:38 am

Like, seriously

“Do wind turbines kill monarchs or disrupt their migration?

Little research has been done to understand the effects of wind turbines on monarch migration.

However, migrating monarchs have been recorded as flying as high as 12,000 meters, depending on the wind patterns, so they are capable of avoiding turbines.”

Jeff Mitchell
January 30, 2020 10:25 am

I grow milkweed in my yard, and we get visits from the butterflies. I have yet to see any caterpillars. I am in Orem, Utah.

Reply to  Jeff Mitchell
January 30, 2020 11:18 am

You have to look for them — I sometimes find the Monarch caterpillars hiding underneath the milkweed leaves.

Michael S. Kelly
Reply to  Jeff Mitchell
February 1, 2020 4:09 am

We have two butterfly bushes on our property in Northern Virginia. Monarchs were here in force last year.

January 30, 2020 10:38 am

Approximately 6 years ago a program was started would like 30 million financing from the federal government. It involve deliberately planting milkweed seeds between the lanes of the i-35w Carter from Minnesota down to Louisiana. This is help significantly in the monarchs that go along that route. Yes Monsanto is guilty of having made a corn which is resistant to Roundup. Which has helped increase corn yields but using the Roundup to get rid of all the noxious Weeds on the field also gets rid of the milkweed therein lies the problem. This 30 million dollar investment was an excellent solution benefiting both Mankind and Monarch kind

Rhys Jaggar
Reply to  Max Hugoson
January 30, 2020 10:42 am

Surely the Monsanto guys should have had to cough up the $30m?

In capitalism, the transgressor pays.

In socialism for the billionaires, the rest of you cough up when rich guys cause damage whilst making billions.

Reply to  Rhys Jaggar
January 31, 2020 8:36 am

Rhys: Why should Monsanto have to cough up the $30 million? They made the products—FARMERS applied it. The farmers are to blame, if anyone. Milkweed were/are listed as noxious weeds in many states. Should the states also have to pay? What about people who chopped out the milkweed because they didn’t like it? How about bean farmers that physically cut the weeds out? They contributed to the dead butterflies, too. So, to be fair, if you ever chopped down a milkweed, you’re part of the problem. Please send a check to atone for your horrible environmental actions.

Max: An excellent solution. Milkweed planted in an area that is not used for crops or homes. A win-win.

Reply to  Max Hugoson
January 30, 2020 11:57 am

40% of the (highly subsidized and thirsty) US corn crop is turned into lower energy ethanol “biofuel”, federally mandated to dilute gasoline.
This has the additional benefit of raising world food prices, probably reducing population growth amongst those in extreme poverty.

Lynn Thacker
Reply to  Betapug
January 30, 2020 3:05 pm

I am a farmer and I agree that government mandated biofuel production makes no sense environmentally or economically. As a farmer, I probably benefit when any major agricultural commodity finds a new large market but society at large pays for it. Especially the poorest among us. I strongly support Monsanto however and their development of Roundup herbicide. It’s revolutionary benefit to food production around the world should warrant a Nobel prize rather than condemnation! I have been using it for more than 30 years and it has displaced dozens of more toxic and less effective herbicides in crop production while being among the very safest for humans. Most herbicides will control milkweed, not just Roundup, but in our farm operation we are happy to still see lots of milkweed in road ditches, field edges and wildlife habitat areas. Responsible farmers are just as concerned about the environment as anyone else!

Reply to  Lynn Thacker
January 31, 2020 9:41 am


Thank you Lynn.

Good to hear from a “user” of Roundup.

I live on a “jump off point” for the annual migration and did not realize how important that milkweed was. On the Panhandle here we see both butterfly and hummingbird migrations every fall/winter.

Gums sends…

Reply to  Max Hugoson
January 30, 2020 1:21 pm

I heard something totally different, that Monsanto incorporated Roundup into corn, killing the monarch butterflies

Reply to  ronk
January 31, 2020 7:25 am

No, Monsanto incorporated an insecticide into corn and it does not kill monarchs because they don’t eat corn pollen. This is more anti-big company propaganda.

Rhys Jaggar
January 30, 2020 10:40 am

So Jim Steele correctly assigns ‘human-induced climate change’ in the microclimate of Monarch butterfly winter habitats, courtesy of thoughtless logging (thereby affecting winter temperature lows in a potentially fatal way) without needing to invoke the gas carbon dioxide at all.

I must say that it is far from an ideal reproduction strategy to have only one tiny place to live in winter: the more the better would surely be simpler, but presumably Monarchs must have been plagued before now and rebounded, so unless the humans chop down their entire winter hideouts in Mexico, all should still be well.

This is the correct way to raise green awareness: fact-based, not shying from any elephants in the room (logging) and showing how specific actions affect specific microclimates with specific outcomes.

Oh but 100 more Jim Steeles could find 1000 similar stories to make green awareness be truly driven by knowledge and rigour.

Reply to  Rhys Jaggar
January 30, 2020 4:06 pm

How would the butterfly have survived during the 90,000 year ice age and the Younger Dryas ? Would it have moved farther south ?

January 30, 2020 10:41 am

Homero Gomez, the activist who fought the criminal illegal logging reducing monarch overwintering forest cover, has just been found murdered at the bottom of a well. 56 police officer have been arrested.
The vast North American drug using community which has financed the total corruption of Mexico for at least the last half century, will not notice.

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  Betapug
January 30, 2020 3:10 pm

Somehow, the end-user, be it gasoline or recreational drugs, never takes the brunt of the heat for the consequences of their actions. The one and only bad guy is the producer. The culpability of the people creating a demand for a product is ignored.

The Guardian just announced that it will no longer take advertisements from fossil fuel companies, but still will take advertising for cars!

Reply to  Clyde Spencer
January 30, 2020 3:37 pm

And the Guardian will also happily continue cutting down trees to make the paper on which they yell and screech about global warming. Hypocrisy runs deep.

Reply to  RG
January 31, 2020 8:44 am

RG: I am reminded of a camping trip from hell where it rained and there were over 20 young kids in the cold and wet. Its was decided to end early and leave. Unfortunately, the adults waited a bit too long to start out and slid off the road. The only way to get out was to cut down a tree that was in the way and get back on the road. The kids had a fit. KILLING A TREE????? I guess they would have preferred death by hypothermia. It amazes me how much people despise themselves and other human beings. We are the only species that CHOOSES to bring about our own demise in a vain and foolish attempt to atone for some moral sin (other than killing Darwin’s theory, of course) that may or may not be defined. Self-destruction by choice.

January 30, 2020 10:51 am

Monarch caterpillars chew thru milkweed like it is their job.
My sister gave me a “baby” monarch caterpillar, in a container with milkweed leaves (that needed freshening every 3-4 days), milkweed seems to like field edges or at least uncrowded areas….
It grew to full size before going chrysalis, then the butterfly emerged, I like to think it is in Mexico now.

Reply to  u.k.(us)
January 30, 2020 8:50 pm

“Monarch caterpillars chew thru milkweed like it is their job.”

It isn’t?

Steve Case
January 30, 2020 10:52 am

A visit to Pismo Beach a few years ago to see the butterfly migration turned up the factoid that no single butterfly makes the complete migration. The ones in Pismo Beach that we saw were the grand children of the eggs laid the previous spring 1500 miles north.

Pillage Idiot
Reply to  Steve Case
January 30, 2020 11:36 am

As a kid, I captured a Monarch in Kansas that had been tagged in Toronto.

I followed that instructions on the tag and reported the find. They were shocked to find out how quickly the butterfly had made the 1200 mile journey.

I still follow their migration through Kansas, which lies at the western edge of the main migration route. Our local abundance is strongly dependent on large autumnal low pressure systems (mild storms).

A stable low (during the migration window) will pull the butterflies down from southern Canada and westward into Kansas when we have northern surface winds. If we do not get these conditions, then I observe very few fall Monarchs. In a few of these types of years, I have seen reports of good butterfly numbers further east along the Mississippi flyway.

P.S. I still have children at home, so we almost always hit zoos when we travel. I believe every single middle America zoo we have visited in the last 8 years has a milkweed planting on the grounds or at the entrance!

Steve Case
Reply to  Pillage Idiot
January 30, 2020 7:38 pm

Pillage Idiot January 30, 2020 at 11:36 am
…the butterfly had made the 1200 mile journey.

Hmmm, so I was lied to, what a shock.

Clarky of Oz
Reply to  Pillage Idiot
January 30, 2020 9:07 pm

Once I captured one in Benalla, Australia. I am not sure if is the same breed but they looked very similar.

Anyway this one had a tag with a Sydney phone number. I rang the number and they put me in touch with a local expert. It tuns out this expert was the person who had released that very same butterfly, that very morning, less than 50 yards from where I caught it. It was she said the closest capture she had ever recorded. Quite a laugh really. The lady took me and my work mate in and showed us around her workshop and we saw one hatching from its chrysalis.

Craig Rogers
January 30, 2020 10:53 am

Did the Monarch learn its navigation by mutations/evolution or was it designed?

In 1008 languages.

Reply to  Craig Rogers
January 30, 2020 11:08 am

The link to ID wasn’t necessary.
Not cance, not ID, but evolution.

Craig Rogers
Reply to  Krishna Gans
January 30, 2020 11:21 am

Its amazing that evolution is so good at mathematics.
DNA just happened unique to each of all the different kinds of species.

Jeff Alberts
Reply to  Craig Rogers
January 30, 2020 12:33 pm

You don’t understand Evolution.

Craig Rogers
Reply to  Jeff Alberts
January 30, 2020 12:51 pm

Since when did a theory become a fact any ways?

I understand common sense and evolution did not give me that gift.

Craig Rogers
Reply to  Jeff Alberts
January 30, 2020 1:14 pm

Here’s one for you
What does Global Warming/Climate Change and Evolution have in common?

Burger King. They are both BIG WHOPPERS!

What a great way to mislead mankind.
REV 12:9
So down the great dragon was hurled, the original serpent, the one called Devil and Satan, who is misleading the entire inhabited earth; he was hurled down to the earth, and his angels were hurled down with him.

Reply to  Jeff Alberts
January 31, 2020 8:50 am

Jeff: No one does.

Reply to  Craig Rogers
January 30, 2020 1:00 pm

This video is fine, showing some natural laws 😀 And the way, that these laws by deduction found a way in mathematical laws 😀

Craig Rogers
Reply to  Krishna Gans
January 30, 2020 2:12 pm

I appreciate the fact you looked at it.. Hey it gives another perspective.

AK in VT
Reply to  Craig Rogers
January 30, 2020 3:39 pm

How about this one, Craig? Which came first, the milkweed or the monarch? Sounds to me like creation explains this one much better than evolution. By the way, we have monarchs in Vermont.

Mark Luhman
Reply to  AK in VT
January 31, 2020 12:48 am

Neither, both could have evolved together. Plant and animals do that all the time. As to creationism, only a fool would not believe God would not use evolution. Even a greater fool think life was chance. Of course the question is not evolution, it is why does life use a digital code in an analog world.

Johann Wundersamer
Reply to  AK in VT
February 11, 2020 1:22 am

Which came first, the milk weed or the monarch, is undecided.

At some point coevolution sets in:

January 30, 2020 11:13 am

Wonder what would happen if a west/east autumn monarch was transported to the east/west. Would it change its migration destination?

As an aside, Painted Lady butterflies also make a huge journey from the southern edge of the African Sahara to northern Europe — then their descendants migrate from there back to Africa.

Reply to  beng135
January 31, 2020 7:37 am

To add, the Painted Lady migration is like the Monarchs’ — the several-generation descendants of the earlier migrants make the subsequent migrations.

January 30, 2020 11:13 am

Jim ==> Thanks for taking up the Monarch Butterfly torch — more public attention will bring more support for such necessary measures as convincing road maintenance crews to stop mowing down milkweed.

All the problems that Monarchs face are human caused — habitat destruction mainly through eradication of milkweeds.

I am very interested in the western population — and am not sure I quite understand the problems Monarchs face there, even after having studied and written about them here at WUWT.

Jim Steele
Reply to  Kip Hansen
January 30, 2020 12:27 pm

Hey Kip,

I confess I missed your earlier WUWT article. I just read it and it covered much of what I wanted to say. My newspaper articles are limited to 800 words or less, so I needed to break the analysis into 2 parts. My part 2 will look at the question of Monarch booms and busts and the ever changing fates of milkweeed. Interestingly humans are equally responsible for booming monarch populations, and the spread of Monarchs across the world. Humans are not responsible only for declining populations. Surveys of summer habitat in natural breeding areas, show no decline in Monarchs, a fact that eliminates climate change from the arguments. Its landscape changes that are key to understanding monarch booms and busts.

Reply to  Jim Steele
January 30, 2020 8:03 pm

Hi Jim,
I hope you will also mention that the Monarch is a highly successful invasive species* and its occurrence in post-glacial North America is a bit of an oddity. The Monarch has been highly rewarded by global warming since the last glacial maximum and would seem to be likely to benefit from more warming, assuming we don’t wipe out their overwintering spots and summer food plants. The yearly retreat to the Mexican highlands by the Eastern population is interesting, but my understanding is that there are other smaller overwintering areas along the Gulf Coast. Anyway, just saw my first Wanderer after many months of drought in Queensland and I must admit it was very nice to see.




Johann Wundersamer
Reply to  Kip Hansen
February 11, 2020 2:06 am


Thankfully road maintenance crews don’t stop mowing down milkweed.

Thus preventing

– summer / autumn igniting of embankment vegetation;

– in winter embankment avalanches built upon frozen embankment vegetation.

January 30, 2020 11:34 am

We love watching the Monarchs in our backyard..Fortunately for us, NE Florida is along the migration path, and one of those places where Monarchs are found year-round, although they’re more abundant in the spring/ early summer..We started planting milkweed about 4 or 5 years ago and it’s all over the place now, because it literally is a weed.. The kids used to get a kick out of hunting for chrysalis and it’s cool when you can look into your backyard and see a flutter of butterflies..

January 30, 2020 11:36 am

The four-lane, 75 mph Interstate Highway 10 across South-eastern Arizona/SW New Mexico is a significant gauntlet to run for a flying insect. Driving across that in October is usually a particularly bad time when my truck carries the evidence of many smashed monarchs on my windshield and grill. Multiply that by ten thousand big rigs and cars everyday on the stretch and the death toll on the migrating population must be staggeringly in the millions of butterflies during that migration from just that one highway.

Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
January 31, 2020 8:38 am

Darwin explained those things……

Kyle Spendiff
January 30, 2020 11:41 am

Monarchs, and other butterflies for that matter, most likely are not seeking out food or host plants (milkweeds) in the middle of cornfields. Folks are quick to blame Monsanto (glyphosate) and other herbicides and pesticides, but with little or no evidence to support their claims.

One thing that is apparent in the East, is that old field habitat, in which common milkweed inhabit, has been reduced significantly in the last 30-50 years. Any open space that was once agriculture, pastureland, hay fields, or abandonded lots, have been converted to housing, or other development types, or replanted with trees as part of reforestation initiatives. Old field and meadow habitat on the East coast is vanishing, and the milkweeds are vanishing with it. Non-tidal wetlands are also diminishing despite no net loss efforts. The wetland plant swamp milkweed is an excellent plant for monarchs.

Active cropland, for the most part, is an ecological desert, and it makes no sense that monarchs or other pollinators would be visiting theses habitats in search of nectar or host plant for reproductive purposes. Land use changes and changes in agricultural practices (small family farms replaced by huge ag operations) have degraded and reduced available host plants and nectar sources. That is the problem…

I also suspect that Mexico has been slow to protect the wintering grounds as well.

David Wolcott
January 30, 2020 11:52 am

Happily there are plenty of monarch butterflies in other countries, such as New Zealand, which decreases their vulnerability to extinction.

Sweet Old Bob
Reply to  David Wolcott
January 30, 2020 12:23 pm

Yes . And …. lets plant milkweed along the I-35 corridor … to attract more of them to the k1lling lanes ! That will be a REALLY good idea !

January 30, 2020 11:58 am

Beneficial Anthropogenic Global Warming, BAGW -, the new standard of excellence.

Mark Fraser
January 30, 2020 12:02 pm

MONOCULTURE. The food consumed by migrating monarchs is in short supply due to conversion of crops
along the route, and they’re essentially starving. Not climate change, but agriculture crop choices.

Reply to  Mark Fraser
January 30, 2020 8:53 pm

Butterflies don’t eat milkweed. The caterpillars do. The only migrating that caterpillars do is from one leaf to another.

January 30, 2020 12:25 pm

In that map, the top row with 4 arrows, I am the second from the left.
I see summer breeding.

While smaller relative to my childhood remembrances, last year seemed to be a plentiful number of these beautiful Monarchs.

I do encourage the milkweed in rural Illinois.

Reply to  a_scientist
January 31, 2020 8:24 am

I do too — in addition to the fluffy seeds, they also spread by roots. If i transplant a couple, after a few yrs I have quite a few more. However, I’m finding in the adjacent field from my lot, the milkweeds (and even goldenrod & asters) are getting overtaken/crowded out by grasses.

Reply to  beng135
January 31, 2020 5:47 pm

Yes my milkweed is mostly on the edge between lawn and native grass lands.
It thrives there, though, as I said, I help it, by propagation and clearing of competition.

Johann Wundersamer
Reply to  beng135
February 11, 2020 3:06 am

beng135 January 31, 2020 at 8:24 am

[ ] milkweeds (and even goldenrod & asters) are getting overtaken/crowded out by grasses:

– weeds are pioneer species

January 30, 2020 12:33 pm

“The Mexican government eventually agreed to ban all logging wherever the butterflies overwinter.”

So in a few decades, the overgrown forest will burn completely. Congratulations.

Jeff Alberts
Reply to  Anonymoose
January 30, 2020 12:35 pm

If left alone, nature will take its course.

Jeff Alberts
January 30, 2020 12:34 pm

“there has always been significant winter storm fatalities”

Conjugation error.

January 30, 2020 12:34 pm

Hawaii has a small native population of Monarchs. I live on the east side of the Big Island of Hawaii. The state considers Milk Weed an evasive species and does not allow it to be planted. The Monarchs here thrive on a native plant called Crown Flower. I plant for Monarchs and enjoy almost year around butterflies around the plants. At certain times of the year there are so many caterpillars on the leaves that I often see 6 foot tall plants completely without leaves and many cocoons attached to almost anything near by. They do not attach to the Crown Flower plants. They are very inquisitive. It is common for them to glide by an open widow near the plants and hover to look inside. When I am outside they often glide by my head to look me over. It is 01/30/2020, mid-morning and I have 5 very aggressive active butterflies laying eggs. I do not think that they migrate out of state but they very well might migrate from Island to island. There are periods of time that there are no Monarchs here for a few months but not always the same months. The months that they are gone allow the Crown Flower Plants to grow new leaves.

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  Codetrader
January 30, 2020 3:20 pm

It is my understanding the the milkweed plant conveys a toxicity to the monarchs that discourages predators. Do you know if the crown flower plant behaves similarly?

Reply to  Clyde Spencer
January 31, 2020 1:06 pm

Thanks Codetrader. Very interesting.

Clyde – Calotropis gigantea is a relative of the milkweeds and loaded with similar cardiac glycosides. Its sap can kill everything from cattle to mosquitoes and has been used for poison arrows.

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  DaveW
January 31, 2020 10:04 pm

Thanks for the info. Being brightly colored and NOT being poisonous could be hazardous to the health of a species.

Jeff Alberts
January 30, 2020 12:36 pm

Think of all the extreme weather these butterflies are causing in China! Oh the Insectity!

guido LaMoto
January 30, 2020 12:48 pm

Most of the corn belt acreage growing row crops now was never prairie, but hardwood forest cleared by the pioneer farmers in the 19th/early 20th century, so Monsanto’s role in loss of natural MIlkweed populations is not the problem. Highway departments with OCD about keeping rural roadsides clear of weeds prevents milkweed from getting a toehold on that prime habitat…Even at that, it’s the loss of the Mexican habitat that’s the real problem– logging, and more importantly, clearing land to grow more avocados for dip for all those woke Millennials who care so much for the environment.

January 30, 2020 12:54 pm

Human knowledge of the location of nesting grounds played a primary role in the extinction of the passenger pigeon….just sayin’….

January 30, 2020 1:58 pm

“Monarch’s ability to migrate thousands of miles, is one of nature’s greatest wonders.”
How monarch butterflies navigate is explained here:
I doubt that described model is the correct one. All migrating birds and land and sea based animals have ferromagnetic sensors for using the Earth’s magnetic declination navigation. Declination is not constant but varies slowly on a decadal time scale. This is not a great problem since minor changes are absorbed and re-printed if the creature made a successful journey and is genetically past to the new generations. However nature sometimes conspires against this kind of a ‘learned’ method; in this case villain is the sun.
Couple of days of strong to severe geo-magnetic (GM) storm (accompanied by aurora at high latitudes) scrambles the ‘declination map’ to extent that the ‘migrant’ moves off course too far to subsequently make good correction, and eventually ends in a wrong location. It is thought that following a GM storm migrating whales can head in more or less correct direction for hundreds of miles with only a degree or a fraction of a degree of longitude off the course and eventually make it or get stranded if they hit the land. This would explain simultaneous stranding of a number of whales from the same pod. Although ‘migrants’ are capable of re-printing very minor annual declination changes, although GM storms generate sudden change of a degree or two, sometimes more over couple of days, the declination is restored back to the initial value once storm is over, leaving no effect on the navigation sensors slow evolution process.

January 30, 2020 2:16 pm

Monarch Butterflies has been present in Australia since about 1871. They inhabit mainly the long east coast. In colder areas to the south, they migrate north but in areas like Coffs Harbour they are happy all year long.

Gary Pearse
January 30, 2020 2:24 pm

Milkweed “cotton” in seed pods is excellent insulation for parkas, sleeping bags and such. It was used for life jackets in WWll being many times more buoyant than cork. It is still used by a company in the US (?) Maybe an idea for a broader based industry that would benefit monarch butterflies? You can also boil the flowers while still green, but boil once, pour off the water and boil again – its like asparagus

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  Gary Pearse
January 30, 2020 3:24 pm


John Lindemulder
January 30, 2020 2:28 pm

How can I grow some milkweed in my backyard??

Sweet Old Bob
Reply to  John Lindemulder
January 30, 2020 6:08 pm › 7-spring-planting-secrets-growing-milk

George Ellis
Reply to  John Lindemulder
January 31, 2020 3:07 am

Asclepias tuberosa is available from Wildseed Farms in Texas. Wildseed Farms is the only one I have found that sells wildflowers up to the pound of seed ($219 for this one, $4.19 per packet). It grows by the roadside in Georgia.

Myron Mesecke
January 30, 2020 3:58 pm

I have lived all of my 57 years in Temple, TX. This is in Bell county, central Texas. I-35 runs through Temple.

About three years ago I contacted a professor at Texas A&M that studies Monarchs. I had some questions and concerns about urban settings which he was able to answer. I told him about how so many of the farms, ranches and open fields around Temple are now subdivisions which has greatly reduced native plant (milkweed) habitat. I also told him that I can find milkweed along rural roads that pass through still existing farms (many of them corn) but finding any milkweed in subdivisions with manicured green lawns was impossible. I also mentioned how people today don’t plant vegetable and flower gardens like they used to do.

Here is what stuck from our email conversation.
He pointed out that cities are a major problem for Monarch migration. There is little source of food as Monarchs travel across major metropolitan areas. Monarchs can fatigue and die before they get across the miles and miles of concrete and green lawns.

He calls cities: Green Deserts.

I also have many questions regarding Monarch numbers. Does milkweed grow better on undisturbed ground or on ground that has been plowed up? How much milkweed was there before man started plowing the ground and planting crops? Did growing crops increase or decrease the amount of milkweed? Did man through farming alter the amount of milkweed and increase Monarch numbers? The first Monarch count wasn’t taken until the late 1990s. What were Monarch numbers in 1890? 1790? We simply don’t know.
Everyone is so quick to blame a major corporation for the decline in Monarchs. Yet that professor I talked to gave me the impression that individuals, homeowners, cities, everyone that keeps a nice tidy manicured lawn are at least as much of a threat.

The reasoning behind developing herbicide resistant crops was to maximize yield, reducing the amount of artificial fertilizer and water needed (not wasting it growing weeds) and therefore reducing the amount of land needed to grow food. That helps keep more land from being plowed up and leaving it as habitat for native plants and animals.

When homeowners use weedkillers on their manicured green lawns there isn’t the benefit of growing an edible crop nor does it keep some land as native habitat.

January 30, 2020 5:21 pm

We have them in Oz. Here they are pretty happy on hibiscus, around the subtropical Brisbane area.

In the tropical Whitsunday Islands there are a couple of uninhabited islands with large breeding colonies. I have no idea what they eat, but they like areas that are swamps during the summer monsoon. These become open forest with a full high canopy during winter, & smaller swamp Melaleuca trees underneath.

Walk through these areas & suddenly all the “leaves” will burst into flight, leaving the branches bare. At other times you will see hundreds or perhaps thousands flying the 4 to 8 miles between islands, laying off their course by 20 degrees to allow for the 20 knots trade wind they are crossing. They certainly fly much more strongly than one expects of a butterfly.

Dennis G. Sandberg
January 30, 2020 6:42 pm

Crossing the several east to west interstate highways must destroy millions of Monarchs. What about the thousands of windmills? Not a mention anywhere as a hazard. I hope I’m wrong about my concern.

Reply to  Dennis G. Sandberg
January 31, 2020 5:58 am

Crossing Lake Michigan is also hazard. I sometimes see them 10 miles off shore it amazes me that they can travel so far without refueling. If a storm whips up at the wrong time during migration they litter the shoreline, one every foot. If they are still alive I’ll move as many as I can to a dry area but I really dont know if they the can recover.

Mike Maguire
January 30, 2020 9:43 pm

Thanks very much for this enlightening report Jim!

Cold kills much more life than heat on this planet……… a wide margin.

Some creatures migrate south for the Winter in the mid/high latitudes to avoid the killing cold and lack of food. Some will tough it out and struggle until the warmth of Spring greens thing up and makes temperatures tolerable again.
Many creatures hibernate to survive the cold temperatures and lack of food.

Most plants either go dormant or die because of the cold.

Global warming has warmed the coldest places(high latitudes) during the coldest times of year the most. This is a good thing.

The optimal global temperature for most of life is ???

Nobody can give an exact number but its likely warmer than the temperature of the planet will be if we keep warming another 1 deg C between now and 2100. At that time, the planet is likely to be even greener, especially if the beneficial CO2, that life loves so much continues to increase.

If increasing CO2 is destroying the planet, it sure has a strange way of showing it by greening up:

We hear that this greening up of the planet is not a good indicator for the health of the planet.
This is true about some measures. However, almost all creatures eat plants or something that ate plants so this is a pretty dang good, authentic starting point……………and its always entirely objective(plants and the rest of life don’t follow politics or obey models-they abide by authentic rules of biology/photosynthesis) .

Fred Harwood
January 31, 2020 5:21 am

Here in southwestern Massachusetts, we had the most monarchs in my 70+ years of recall.

January 31, 2020 6:29 am

No matter who you are or wherein you live, you could get concerned today. Start by means of planting milkweed and nectar vegetation that are local in your region. Garden organically to limit your impacts on monarchs, their meals plants and other pollinators. Become a citizen scientist and reveal monarchs in your region. Educate others approximately pollinators, conservation and the way they can assist.

January 31, 2020 8:55 am

For giggles, read the evolutionists explanation of metamorphosis. (It just happened is NOT an explantion…)
We don’t even know why the monarchs migrate and why it involves several generations. We can’t fix what we don’t understand. Keeping the forests, keeping the milkweed are great ideas and should help. Whether or not long term the monarchs survive, who knows? As for us killing the monarchs, we are part of the earth (or if not, we’re aliens or specially made by God—pick one) so if we kill them, it’s just evolution in action. Really, that’s how it works. Survival of the fittest, toughest, biggest, sneakiest. Hopefully, no one said it was pretty.

January 31, 2020 2:13 pm

I hope we & the monarch’s are able to pull them through

February 1, 2020 9:53 pm

Other than “internet banter”, “column inches”, research grants, and curiosity in general, just what is the biological purpose of “Monarch Butterflies” – beside their part in making butter, of course… ;>)

Johann Wundersamer
February 11, 2020 3:43 am

DANNY DAVIS February 1, 2020 at 9:53 pm

[ ] the biological purpose of “Monarch Butterflies” – as of ANY pioneer weeds – is to develop wildernis, deserts, even bare rocks, into habitable environments.

February 4, 2020 6:33 am
Johann Wundersamer
Reply to  Yooper
February 11, 2020 4:11 am

The paradise islands, happy people on tropical beaches. The less fortunate people aren’t seen that often on the beaches.

A lot of people maybe aren’t seen on the beaches.

Johann Wundersamer
February 11, 2020 12:23 am

“A carpet of dead Monarchs. from Brower (2002) in” –> A carpet of dead monarchs, in piles up to eight inches or more in depth.

“Catastrophic Winter Storm Mortality of Monarch Butterflies in” –> Catastrophic winter storm mortality of monarch butterflies in Mexico during January 2002

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