Tag Archives: monarch migration

WHERE HAVE ALL THE BUTTERFLIES GONE?

In thinking about where have all the butterflies gone, I am reminded of the poignant song written by Pete Seeger “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” which although a song about the futility of war, sums up much about the environmental impact of habitat loss. Without wildflower habitat, there will be no pollinators of any sort.

Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time ago.

Buckeye and Seaside Goldenrod

Where have all the butterflies gone? Different species of butterfly populations fluctuate from year to year. For example, some years you may see far greater numbers of Buckeyes, the next year not so much. That same year you may hardly see any Tiger Swallowtails but will the following.

That being said, everyone must realize that every year there are fewer butterflies than the year before. Butterflies thrive in meadows, the very same topography that is the easiest to build upon. Every time a new house or shopping mall is built on a meadow, we decrease not just butterfly habitat, but a whole community of wildlife habitat.

In the above photo you can see a Monarch with a Black Swallowtail flying overhead. This stunning patch of wildflowers and nectar plants was sited in Gloucester at a prime spot for Monarchs to rest and refuel after migrating across Massachusetts Bay. The new home owners ripped out most of the wildflowers and planted the site in a more formal style, with non-native perennials and shrubs. At this location, I would often see Monarchs, Tiger Swallowtails, Black Swallowtails, Painted and American Ladies, Sulphurs, and many other species. That is no longer true.

Tiger Swallowtail drinking nectar from Joe Pye-weed at the same wildflower patch, no longer in existence.

Butterfly and bee populations are declining overall, not only because of habitat loss, but because of the unbridled use of herbicides and pesticides in agriculture and home lawn care.

Butterflies are especially sensitive to fluctuations in weather, and also to overall climate change. This year we had a long, cold wet spring. The inclement weather is continuing, too, from a butterflies perspective, because although we are seeing some warmer temperatures the past few days, it has mostly been rainy, foggy, or overcast. Butterflies thrive during long stretches of sunny, hot weather. Their wings don’t work very well in the damp and cold. Because of global climate change, we have seen a seven percent increase in precipitation worldwide.

One of the best years I have ever seen for dozens and dozens of species of butterflies, including Monarchs, in the Northeast, was the summer and fall of 2012. That year, we had a warm winter followed by a warm spring, then a warm, dry summer, and a long, warm Indian summer. It was butterfly bonanza that summer and autumn!

Adding to people’s concern is the fact that last year, there was an abundance of spring rain that in turn created an extraordinary wildflower bloom in Texas, which got all the butterflies off to a good start. In 2019, we were seeing Monarchs as early as early June, which was very unusual for Cape Ann. Folks are comparing this year to that of 2019, however, 2019 was not an average year.

Monarchs are a case unto themselves. Their spring and summer numbers largely depend upon an additional variety of conditions, including how successful was the previous year’s autumn migration, whether or not there were nectar providing wildflowers on their northward and southward  migrations, and wind and weather conditions all along their route, from Canada to Mexico.

Note the bar graph in that the eastern population of the Monarchs plummeted by half, according to this year’s spring count by the World Wildlife Fund Mexico.

Particularly in the northeast, the wind patterns during the Monarchs spring northward migration matter tremendously. My friend Charmaine at Point Pelee, in southern Ontario, which is 49 degrees latitude (we are 43 degrees latitude) has been raising and releasing Monarchs for over a month now, while most of us on Cape Ann have only seen a smattering. The Monarchs moved this year in a straight northward trajectory. If the wind does not blow from west to east during some part of their northward migration, far fewer will end up along the eastern shores.

Monarchs and Seaside Goldenrod

All is not lost. I am 90 percent certain we will soon be seeing some of our migratory and non-migratory local populations, we just need some good weather. They are later than usual, but not gone entirely.

For so many more reasons, I am hopeful for the future of wildlife and their habitats and see such tremendous, positive change. Despite the current administration’ s extremely harmful stance against the environment, many, many individuals and organizations are gaining a deeper appreciation about the importance of habitats and taking positive action. Many have made it their life’s work. These individuals and organizations are creating wildlife sanctuaries and conserving existing habitats. If the Monarch is declared an endangered species, that will surely bring an added awarenesses and increased federal spending for protecting and creating habitats.

How can you help species such as the Monarchs, which in turn will help myriad species of other butterflies and pollinators)? Plant wildflowers! Both Marsh and Common Milkweed for their northward migration, and lots of nectar-rich later summer blooming wildflowers for their southward migration, including New England Aster, Smooth Aster, Purple-stemmed Aster, Seaside Goldenrod, and Canada Goldenrod.

Monarchs and New England Aster

LOSS OF HABITAT, THE USE OF PESTICIDES AND HERBICIDES, AND CLIMATE CHANGE ARE HAVING A PROFOUNDLY NEGATIVE IMPACT ON THE BUTTERFLIES

IT’S NOT JUST MEXICO’S FORESTS THAT NEED PROTECTING FOR BUTTERFLY MIGRATION

THEIR ROUTE FROM CANADA IS THREATENED BY OVERUSE OF HERBICIDES AND CLIMATE CHANGE, AMONG OTHER FACTORS

Monarch and Marsh Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)

Mexico, the United States and Canada must share responsibility for the conservation of the monarch butterfly, according to a biologist who warns that the insect’s North American migratory path is at risk of becoming a thing of the past.

Víctor Sánchez-Cordero, a researcher at the National Autonomous University’s Institute of Biology and Mexico’s lead representative on a tri-national scientific committee that studies the monarch, said that the butterflies’ route from southeastern Canada to the fir tree forests of Michoacán and México state is under threat.

He blames the excessive use of herbicides, changes in the way land is used, climate change and a reduction in the availability of nectar and pollen.

“The commitment to conserve this migratory phenomenon not only focuses on Mexico; it’s a shared responsibility between our country, Canada and the United States,” Sánchez-Cordero said.

The researcher, who along with his team developed a system to monitor the migration of the monarch, said that there is a misconception that the most important – almost exclusive – factor in ensuring the continuation of the phenomenon is the conservation of forests in the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve (RBMM), located about 100 kilometers northwest of Mexico City.

That idea “has placed great international pressure on Mexico,” Sánchez-Cordero said before adding that he and his team published an article in the journal Frontiers in Environmental Science that shows that the decline in the number of monarch butterflies migrating to Mexico is not due to deforestation in the RBMM.

Deforestation has been drastically reduced in the past 10 years but butterfly numbers have continued to decline, he said.

“The dramatic reduction in the density of monarch butterflies that arrive at overwintering sites in Mexico doesn’t correlate with the loss of forest coverage, which shows that this factor is not responsible for the population reduction. … Other hypotheses to explain the decrease must be sought,” Sánchez-Cordero said.

One possible cause for the decline, he explained, is that the excessive use of herbicides is killing milkweed, a plant that is a main food source for monarch butterflies and on which females lay their eggs. Less nectar and pollen in the United States and Canada as a result of deforestation is another possible cause, Sánchez-Cordero said.

He added that large numbers of migrating butterflies have perished in Texas and the northeast of Mexico due to drought linked to climate change.

To conserve the migratory phenomenon of the monarch – butterflies fly some 4,500 kilometers to reach Mexican forests from Canada over the course of three to four generations – a network of conservation areas along their migration routes needs to be developed, Sánchez-Cordero said. He also said that the routes followed by the butterflies should be declared protected areas.

“A new conservation paradigm is needed. … It’s something that we [Mexico, the United States and Canada] should build together,” the researcher said.

Monarch Butterfly Seaside Habitat

SAFE GUARDING THE BUTTERFLIES: FILM INTERVIEW WITH JOEL MORENO ROJAS AND ELLEN SHARP FOUNDERS OF THE BUTTERFLIES AND THEIR PEOPLE PROJECT

In March I had the tremendous joy of interviewing Ellen Sharp and Joel Moreno Rojas, founders of the nonprofit organization “The Butterflies and Their People Project.” We filmed the interview from the rooftop of their hotel, JM Butterfly B&B, which is located at the base of Cerro Pelon Monarch Butterfly Reserve in Macheros, Mexico. Cerro Pelon is the old volcanic mountain where the Monarchs wintering home was first located by Mexican citizen scientist Catalina Aguado Trail, on January 2, 1975.  Trail was at the time time working under the direction of zoologist Doctor Fred Urquhart of the University of Toronto.

Joel and Ellen are simply an amazing dynamic duo. They have built a beautiful and welcoming bed and breakfast at Cerro Pelon, the most pristine and least trafficked of Monarch sanctuaries. Largely through the conservation efforts of The Butterflies and Their People Project they have helped provide economic opportunities that have in turn dramatically reduced illegal logging and deforestation of the core protected areas of the forest.

The mission of The Butterflies and Their People Project is to “preserve the butterfly sanctuary by creating jobs for local people in forest and monarch butterfly conservation. The Butterflies & Their People Project is an Asociación Civil (non-profit organization) registered and located in the village of Macheros in the State of Mexico.”

I hope you’ll watch and will be equally as enamored of Joel and Ellen as were we. You’ll learn more about how The Butterflies and Their People Project came to be, the importance of protecting the existing Monarch Butterfly forest sanctuaries, and how jobs and economic growth go hand and hand with protecting the vitally important temperate forests of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve.  And a bit about how this extraordinary couple met and began their journey in Monarch conservation.

To learn more about The Butterflies and Their People Project visit their website.

To donate to The Butterflies and Their People Go Fund Me fundraiser click here.

To learn more about and make a reservation at  JM Butterfly B and B click here.

HOME FROM BEAUTIFUL MEXICO AND FILMING THE MAGNIFICENT MONARCHS AT CERRO PELON!

My husband Tom and I returned from filming Monarchs in Mexico very late Monday night. The first day back was pasta making for Saint Joseph Day at the Groppos and spending time with our son Alex and granddaughter Charlotte. Yesterday and today I’ve been pouring through the footage to add to the film. I’ll write some posts about beautiful Mexico, the fantastic JM Butterfly B and B, and the magnificent Monarchs as soon as I have time to sort through the photos. It was an adventure of a lifetime!

I was most worried about torturing Tom and wasn’t entirely sure we would have uninterrupted internet access so he could work remotely, but he had the best time meeting new people, riding horses up the mountain, climbing Cerro Pelon, and practicing his Spanish!

Monarch flakes fill the sky 

MONARCH FILM FUNDRAISING SCREENING PARTY

Dear Friends,

This past spring I had a tremendously inspirational experience. Out of the blue, a lovely woman from Concord, Laura Stevens, contacted me about the possibility of viewing my documentary film about the Monarch butterflies, Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterflies. I was reluctant at first, explaining that the film was in a rough cut form. Although the rough cut features the butterflies and Cape Ann in the most beautiful light, the film does need finessing.

Laura comes from a wonderful family and they all love Monarchs! Every year, she and her family gather together for a reunion based around a weekend of learning. Laura explained that it would be an extra special treat for the 27 women and children who attend the reunion to see the film. The more I thought about it the more I thought it would be a super idea, and sent her access to the film.

Several weeks passed when in the mail I received the most heartfelt thank you letters from Laura and her family members who had attended the screening, from the ninety-five year old great auntie to the youngest child there. And soon after that, donations towards the film’s completion arrived from this most generous family. I am so grateful to Laura and her family for the donations, and for their kind encouragement and enthusiasm.

At that time the thought crossed my mind that this would be a wonderful way to continue to raise funds for the documentary. Landscape design work and the story of Little Chick and the Piping Plovers has kept me from doing any recent fundraising, but my work typically slows for a brief period during the end of August and beginning of September.

Female Monarch Butterfly and Marsh Milkweed, 2017

Don’t you think it auspicious for my film project that we are seeing so many butterflies this summer? I began documenting the Monarchs in our region in 2006, which was a tremendous year for the Monarch migration through Cape Ann. The year 2012 was quite strong as well, but in the past four years, as the worldwide population has plummeted, so have the Monarchs migrating through our area. Imagine that in 1977 when the Monarchs were first discovered at their winter sleeping grounds, the butterflies were counted by the billions, while today only by the millions.

My hope for Beauty on the Wing is that it will travel to the various conservation and environmental festivals, and then be made available to classrooms around the nation. Another dream for the film is that it will be translated into Spanish and French. Just as American and Canadian children are curious about the butterflies’ winter home after departing their northern breeding grounds, Mexican children are equally curious as to the butterflies’ destination after they leave the butterfly sanctuaries in central Mexico.

The intent of this letter is to learn if amongst our readers there is interest in hosting a screening of the film in its not quite completed form. The purpose of the screening would be to raise money towards the film’s completion and distribution. And, too, I thought it would be a more fun, educational, and personal way to fundraise. To date I have received over $5,000 in generous donations. I am working with the non-profit filmmaker’s assistance group, the Filmmakers Collaborative. Donations made through FC are tax deductible. An itemized budget is available upon request. Beauty on the Wing is 54 minutes long. I thought we could show twenty minutes of highlights and then discuss the current state of the butterflies. Viewer feedback would also be of tremendous help. Screening parties could be so much fun, especially at this time of year during the butterfly’s migration, and especially in 2017 while we are seeing so many Monarchs on the wing.

Readers, what do you think? Please comment on this post or write me at kimsmithdesigns@hotmail. Thank you so very much for your time, thoughts, and interest.

Warmest wishes,

Kim

 

Links:

Beauty on the Wing: Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly film website

A Flight of Monarchs

Trailer

Film Interview with Doctor Thomas Emmel at the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve at Sierra Chinqua

Monarchs Eyed for Possible Inclusion Under US Endangered Species Protection

Cape Ann Milkweed and Monarch Habitat, Eastern Point

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering adding Monarchs as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. A one-year review is underway to monitor the butterfly’s status. Since the 1990s the population has plummeted from about one billion to approximately 35 million. That may seem like a substantial number, but the Monarchs need stronger numbers to be resilient to other threats such as harsh weather.

The reason for the decline is primarily because of loss of milkweed habitat in the agricultural heartland of the United States. With the development of Monsanto’s Roundup and Roundup Ready (glyphosate resistant) seed, farmers are now able to spray glyphosate directly on their corn, soybean, and sorghum crops. Roundup also destroys milkweed. Secondly, with the push for ethanol, farmers have begun to plant corn on conservation land.

If the Fish and Wildlife Service determines that the Monarchs are threatened, they will set aside land for milkweed.

You can read more about the the Monarch Butterfly Endangered Species Act here:

FAQs on the Monarch Butterfly Endangered Species Act Petition

Monarch Butterfly Wildflower Joe-pye ©Kim Smith 2012Monarch Butterfly Drinking Nectar from Native Wildflower Joe-pye Weed

You can learn more about the Monarch migration and the loss of Monarch habitat from Professor Tom Emmel here ~ 

Meet McGuire Center Director Tom Emmel at the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserves

Tom Emmel Angangueo ©Kim Smith 2014Tom Emmel, right

Our expedition to the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserves was led by Tom Emmel, Ph.D. Tom is the Director of the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity, which is part of the University of Florida’s Museum of Natural History. He is also the university’s professor of zoology and entomology and the author of over 400 publications, including 35 books. Not only is Dr. Emmel a professor and director of the center, he leads expeditions to research biodiversity around the world, including recent trips to Bali to Komodo Island to study the Komodo Dragon (with a great story of how he and his fellow travelers very nearly almost became Komodo Dragon supper), the Galapagos Islands, and Madagascar.

This was Dr. Emmel’s fortieth trip to Angangueo to study the Monarch Butterfly migration. His first trip was in 1980 with Dr. Lincoln Brower who had, at the same time as Dr. Fred Urquhart, discovered the Monarch colonies in 1975. In those first early years of conducting research at the biospheres, Dr. Emmel and Dr. Brower traveled on old mining roads, rode horseback to the colonies, and camped in tents. Today, there are well-marked trails with options for either hiking or horseback riding.

On the second day of our expedition, I interviewed Dr. Emmel at the top of Sierra Chincua Monarch Colony. He was also interviewed by a Mexican television crew at the summit of the Sierra Chincua biosphere. I am in the process of editing the interview footage and will have that ready to post in the near future. Amongst the many aspects of the Monarch’s migration discussed during the interview, Dr. Emmel reveals exactly how one counts millions upon millions of Monarchs and offers several theories as to why the butterflies migrate to the very specific climate zone of the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt. We cover the subject of Monarch conservation and precisely how Monsanto’s GMO genetically modified Roundup Ready corn and sorghum, and Bt-corn, are indisputably deadly to the Monarchs. You’ll be surprised at the results of the research that was conducted on our journey in regard to the numbers of Monarchs counted in the biospheres.

Monarch Oyamel tree ©Kim Smith 2014 copyThis photo was taken early in the day, before the butterflies awaken in the sun. You can see that the limb of the Oyamel tree is so heavily laden with butterflies, it appears as though it will snap at any moment. And oftentimes, the limbs do break! The butterflies  scatter and then regroup to another location.

Meeting Dr. Emmel and fellow expedition travelers was one of the most interesting and exciting aspects of the journey. You can’t imagine traveling with a more knowledgeable expert than Dr. Emmel. He is not only a world authority on all aspects of the Monarch’s migration, the history of the development of the biospheres, and the community of Angangueo, he also has extensive knowledge about a wide range of wildlife species and topics relative to biodiversity and the natural world.  He shares the information generously and with a sense of humor, too.

Ian Segebarth Craig Segebarth ©Kim Smith 2014Dr. Emmel’s assistants, brothers Ian and Craig Segebarth, are two of the brightest and most helpful young men you could hope to meet. Marie Emerson, who works in the development department at the museum was a joy and also super helpful, as was Josh Dickinson, who was traveling with his wonderfully fun granddaughter, 5th grader Zoie Dickinson. Josh Dickinson has spent a lifetime consulting on forestry management and he will be helping with forestry management at the Monarch biospheres. Josh also speaks Spanish very well and was tremendously helpful, especially when I locked myself out of my hotel room! Thanks again Josh for your kind assistance!

Zoie Dickinson ©Kim Smith 2014 copyZoie Dickinson

Monarch Expedition: Part One ~ Angangueo Michoacán, Mexico

Angangueo Mexico ©Kim Smith 2014After the four-hour drive from Mexico City, across a wide valley of rustic farmland and over and around volcanic mountains, we arrived in the early evening at the sleepy town of Angangueo. Pitched on a steep mountainside, the narrow streets and closely packed buildings with shared stucco walls immediately reminded me of southern European villages. Especially lovely were the modest and many handmade outdoor altars gracing townspeople’s homes and gardens.

Altar Angangueo mexico ©Kim Smith 2014

Angangueo is located in the far eastern part of the state of Michoacán in the central region of Mexico in the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt. In the late 1700s minerals were discovered. Large deposits of silver, gold, copper, and iron ore brought a rush of people into the area. Today, Angangueo is noted as home to two of the most beautiful Monarch Butterfly Biospheres, El Rosario and Sierra Chincua.

Hotel Don Bruno Angangueo Mexico ©Kim Smith 2014Our guesthouse, the Hotel Don Bruno, was utterly charming. As with many of the buildings we passed on the way to Angangueo, a cheery row of glazed terra cotta pots brimming with red and pink geraniums lined the hotel entrance. Through the entryway door and past the front office, guests entered the beautiful inner courtyard garden. All the rooms faced into the courtyard and mine had a delightfully fragrant sunny yellow rose just outside the door. I quickly changed for dinner to meet my fellow travelers in the hotel’s second floor dining room. A long dining table arranged family style, running the length of the room, had been set up for our group, with a view onto the flowering courtyard below.

Hotel Don Bruno Restaurant ©Kim Smith 2014 copy

As he did that evening, and every dinner and breakfast, Chef Jean Gabriel Salazar López had prepared an elegant feast of many different entrees, mostly native Mexican dishes, including and combining a fabulous array of local fruits and vegetables. The proprietors and hotel staff could not have been more friendly and accommodating.

Chef Jean Gabriel Salazar López Hotel Don Bruno Angangueo © Kim Smith 2014.

Dinner was followed by a discussion led by Dr. Emmel. Tom Emmel is the Director of the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity, which is part of the University of Florida’s Museum of Natural History. He is also a professor of zoology and entomology and the author of 35 books (more about Dr. Emmel in the next installment). I recorded several of Dr. Emmel’s lectures and an interview atop the Sierra Chincua Biosphere and will be posting all on youtube.

Mural Angangueo Mexico ©Kim Smith 2014Mural in the town plaza

At daybreak the following morning, I climbed the central outdoor stairwell to the top of the hotel to film the sleepy town awakening. Roosters crowed and the hotel’s freshly washed and drying sheets whipped to the wind in the crisp mountain air. The morning light did not disappoint. Kitty corner across from my rooftop vantage point was one of the small town’s several churches, with a walled courtyard and red and white banners fluttering in the breeze. The village’s main road leads further up to the mountains and is lined with red tiled roofed-homes and sidewalks swept immaculately clean. The sun was just beginning to peek through the mountains when I had to leave to hurry down to breakfast.

Angangueo ©Kim Smith 2014Despite the beauty and well-kept appearance of Angangueo, and especially of our charming guesthouse, the town and the Hotel Don Bruno were nearly empty of tourists. Reports of mayhem and murder in Michoacán have drastically reduced the number of people traveling to Angangueo to see the Monarchs at the biospheres.

The gang murders are taking place on the far western side of Michoacán, near the Pacific Coast. Angangueo is located on the far eastern side of the state, bordering the state of Mexico. Not traveling to Angangueo for that reason is as uninformed as if someone decided not to travel to San Francisco because of the gang violence that takes place in Los Angeles! The people of Angangueo have stopped logging to protect the Monarch’s habitat and have come to rely heavily on income from tourism. I was deeply saddened to see the lack of visitors, at this time of year especially, when the Monarchs are at their peak activity at the colonies.

San Simón Angangueo Mexico ©Kim Smith 2014San Simon Parish Church

Inmaculada Concepcíon ©Kim Smith 2014Inmaculada Concepcíon

Next installment: Day 1 at the Monarch Colony